Views from Kansas: Allow local bans on plastics

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Wichita leaders recently decided to explore a citywide ban on plastic bags.

It didn’t take long for some state lawmakers to sharpen their dictatorial pencils and craft a proposal to ban the bans — a bill that would prohibit local governments from imposing any tax, fee or ban on single-use bags or plastic straws.

The proposal echoes laws already approved in Missouri and Oklahoma. But Kansas can and should do better.

Local jurisdictions should have a say in addressing single-use bags and other plastic products in their own communities.

In recent years, hundreds of communities around the country have moved to ban plastic bags. They have become the new tumbleweed, somersaulting across the landscape, hooking into tree branches, littering roadways and ending up in rivers and oceans, where they contaminate the water and harm fish and wildlife.

Wichita is one of a handful of Kansas communities, including Lawrence, Salina and Prairie Village, that have begun considering bans on plastic products. Both Walmart and Kroger, the parent company of Dillons grocery stores, have plans to phase out single-use bags in Kansas and elsewhere.

State lawmakers should encourage those efforts and look for other ways to protect the environment, not put up roadblocks that preempt cities from doing so.

Some retailers understandably are worried about irregular standards across the state. Wichita would be the first city in Kansas and one of the largest in the Midwest to ban or tax plastic bags.

But former Wichita City Council member Lavonta Williams, a proponent of banning plastic bags, rightly noted that such a move would be similar to a smoking ban the city approved in 2008.

That ordinance prohibited smoking in any business where people under 18 are allowed. And although controversial at the time — it passed by a vote of 4-3 — it was only two years before the state followed with an even harsher ban. Now it’s hard to remember a time when smoking was allowed in restaurants and bars.

Banning or taxing plastic bags would have some negative consequences. Shoppers would be forced to buy reusable bags, which range from $1 and up, or pay a surcharge for the single-use plastic ones — an additional cost that would hurt low-income residents the most.

But Wichita citizens — through our elected officials or a vote on the issue — should be able to exercise judgment and decide for ourselves.

— Originally published in the Wichita Eagle

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