Dallas City Council to Determine Fate of Plastic Grocery Bags & Maybe Get Us Sued Again?

trashYou may have heard that the Dallas City Council is nearing a vote or a discussion or something on what to do about those thin plastic grocery bags some of use whenever we pick up groceries, drugs, sundries, whatever. They call them “one-time use” but I tend to use them a couple times. I don’t know about you, but I do carry my own bags (Lululemon ones are best) to the grocery but sometimes forget them in the car.

I know, that’s dumb.

More than 150 cities or counties across the U.S., including Brownsville and Austin, now have some sort of bag regulations, plastic or other. Houston city leaders have contemplated such a ban, but discussions died down last year and are expected to return. Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway is the man who started a series of debates wanting an ordinance banning the “single-use” plastic bags last summer. Caraway doesn’t like the way the bags litter the streets, creeks, and properties when disrespecting idiots let them fly instead of recycling them or placing them in the trash.

bag litterAccording to most reports, the council may lean towards restrictions or propose a fee on the disposable bags, which will be borne by the the consumer. For example, in Los Angeles, by ordinance, single use plastic carryout bags at stores are banned, retailers charge 10¢ for each paper carryout bag sold to a customer. So you forget to bring in a bag, you have to buy one. Same thing up north in the Peninsula and San Francisco Bay area where in January I had to pay for shopping bags at Pottery Barn.

This is funny: had I mailed my purchase, I would not have had to pay for the bag and the packing material which included those awful styrofoam popcorns and way more materials than a single-use bag.

Don’t forget this new ordinance will require signage, an educational program(s) series, staff training on how to tell people about the bag policy “NO TENGO BOLSAS!” and ask for the bag fee politely, foreign language requirements like how to say “no bolsas plastico” in Spanish, reporting requirements, a system for the retailer to collect the fees, which in Los Angeles they can keep, likely an accounting consult and oversee to see how those fees are treated — fee income? Other income? Bag income?

And to be fair to Dwaine Caraway, other Texas cities have already imposed bans on plastic bags, which came about in 1977, had a 4% share of the market in 1981, but by 1996 bagged up 80% of the market, probably more today. And since I was alive and breathing in 1977, I remember that we embraced the plastic bags because we were trying to save trees, hence reduce use of the paper bags.

They also did not disintegrate in the rain. Some people want us to get out of the car and walk everywhere, well how will be carry our groceries?

My late father-in-law was an engineer with International Paper Company and he hated the plastic bags with a vengeance, but not as much as he hated styrofoam packaging that he said could never biodegrade.

bag litter 2 Five Mile CreekSo here’s what other Texas Cities are doing:

–Austin: single-use plastic and paper bags are banned

–Brownsville: $1.00 fee per transaction for plastic or paper checkout bags

–Freer: non-compostable plastic carryout bags are banned

–Fort Stockton: single-use plastic bags banned

–Kermit: plastic checkout bags will be banned and a 10¢ fee will be placed on paper bags; passed July 2013, effective October 2013

–Laguna Vista: non-compostable plastic carryout bags are banned

–South Padre Island: single-use plastic bags banned

–Sunset Valley: single-use plastic and paper bags will be banned

-Houston: talking about it.

In January, Caraway seemed hell-bent on making Dallas as green as he could, not mint green, certainly not aqua, but GREEN like St. Paddys’ Day green:

“We thrive on being a green city and recycling and having a clean environment, and you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “If we’re going to protect the environment and celebrate green initiatives, then we can’t be kinda green or sorta green or mint green. Green is green, and if we’re going to be 100-percent let’s do everything we can to approach that goal.”

Other council members are not too keen on the city telling businesses and consumers what to do. Rick Callahan is against a ban for because “nobody in my district (is) knocking my door down” in support of one.

It seems like it would be easier to just fine the slobs who cannot pick up after themselves, no? Too bad a company like Poo Prints cannot run a plastic bag DNA test like it does on dog poop so you could nab the perps. Slobs who dump one-time checkout bags will likely also dump plastic cups, kleenex, tires, styrofoam containers, and more.

bag trash Lake CliffAnd if we are going to go as deeply 100% green as Dwaine Caraway wants us to go, why not ban other plastics like dry cleaner bags and oh dear, shopping bags at Neimans? (How will we protect our clean clothes?) I believe Jerry Allen is thinking along these lines: “Jerry Allen wanted to know why the ban didn’t extend to, say, Dallas Morning News delivery bags and dry-cleaner bags.”  Then why not plastic water bottles and plastic cups? What about newspapers and magazines? What about cans?

What about more lawsuits?

New Braunfels adopted a law in 2012 — known as the “can ban” — to try and keep the Comal and Guadalupe rivers free from trash. Tubers with soda cans apparently just dump them in the river when they are finished drinking, as if it were one big garbage pool.

But river outfitters filed a lawsuit against the ordinance, which has been pending since last year. Monday, State District Court Judge Don Burgess sided with a beer distributor and others in ruling that New Braunfels doesn’t have the jurisdiction to regulate disposable items like cans.

How about bags?

The Texas Retailers Association sued Austin over their no bag law, saying a Texas city may not ban bags, unless authorized by the state to do so, claiming harm:

  “The retailers will be harmed due to the loss of customers to stores outside of Austin (seeking stores providing bags) and the loss of customers because of increased prices (due to passing on the cost of new bags),” the complaint states. “Of course, the citizens of Austin will also be harmed by increased prices and health risks associated with reusable bags.”

The group dropped the lawsuit after Austin officials asked for specific information on the sales of plastic bags. Still, who trumps? Indeed, state Rep. Dan Flynn of Canton has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion to settle this conundrum: are city bans on plastic bags in compliance with the state’s health and safety laws? A specific section of the Texas Health and Safety Code says that a municipal district may not pass legislative restrictions or charge fees relating to the consumption of a “container or package” for waste management purposes. And you know we all use those bags for pet waste management:

 

“At least nine cities in Texas have enacted bans on plastic bags and adopted fees on replacement bags in recent years,” the letter stated. “This appears to be in contravention of state law.”

And finally, how can our city be 100% green, Dwaine Caraway, when we allow people to build entire waterparks in their backyard? I’m just asking.

 

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