Austin's anti-plastic bag crusade How many reasons do we need to rise up against plastic bags? As it turns out, more than you might imagine, only because they’ve become just about as indispensable to us as light bulbs, cars and sliced bread. For all intents and purposes, plastic bags entered our lives with a see how cool I am kaboom, quickly wrapping themselves around our hearts and rightfully impressing us with their durability as well as their sheer carrying strength. Paper bags? Who needs ‘em — they’ve always sustained puncture wounds in all the wrong places anyway. But plastic bags — ah, such a consumer-driven revelation! They quickly enabled us to tote 100 pounds of groceries from the car directly into our homes by merely looping them along the length of our arms (in one fell swoop, mind you!), plus they weren’t too shabby at helping us to ditch old kitty litter or other undesirable landfill-destined items, either. All good things must come to an end, however, and in the case of plastic bags, we learned that they were messing up the natural environment as well as becoming an accidental food source (and ultimate death sentence) for animals of all kinds. Made with nonrenewable, highly polluting petroleum, they once seemed dandy and infinitely handy, but as it turns out, plastic bags — which can actually be recycled! — rarely ever are since the collection/processing costs more than outweigh the actual commodities market profit. As a result, they’re typically landfilled to the tune of 7 billion annually in the U.S. (a figure that could potentially be a lot higher since municipal waste is extremely compressed). Texas, home to all things big and even bigger, is the latest region actively addressing this environmental scourge, with Austin earning the distinction — in addition to South Padre Island, Fort Stockton, San Antonio and Brownsville — as the fifth city in the state to fully or partially ban plastic shopping bags. Since the 263 million plastic bags that Austinites use annually end up creating a whopping $850,000 financial burden on the capital city, the intention is to reduce the overhead by implementing a plastic bag ordinance (with a still yet-to-be-finalized timetable) that will directly affect major retailers such as Target, Walmart, Randall’s, HEB and Walgreens. Among the goals:
  • Austin City Council representatives, along with the mayor, want to encourage rather than discourage recycling and the overall acceptance of greener alternatives.
  • Unlike other regions, Austinites perceive paper bags as a greener option than plastic since they are readily recyclable, but acknowledge that they might end up charging a minor fee per bag in order to inspire customers to tote along their own reusable bags.
  • Plastic bags will probably be given the green light in the meat and seafood departments of local grocery stores as well as in pet parks and to protect home-delivered newspapers from the elements, but Austinites shouldn’t expect them to be of the compostable variety since they are challenging to identify and separate from conventional versions.
  • They have no intention of causing retailers “hardship” with their new ordinance, so they will slowly but surely implement any changes, respecting unique situations that may exist.
This plan could potentially be reviewed by city government officials as soon as November 2011 and implemented by late December or January 2012!