What’s next for Austin’s bag ban? Here’s why I’ll miss it if it goes away

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that cities do not have the right to take away flimsy plastic bags at the grocery store.

Plastic bags are so light that they can travel far and wide in the wind. This 2013 photo is from the Sunset Farm Land Fill near Manor. Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman

You’ll remember the controversy in 2013, when Austin’s bag ban went into effect, barring retailers from using plastic bags that were not thick enough to be reused. There were some exceptions, but for the most part, we stopped seeing these formerly ubiquitous bags in stores and, more importantly, along roadsides and stuck in fences and trees.

On Friday, the judges unanimously ruled that citywide plastic bag bans “run afoul of a state law that prohibits cities from trying to reduce waste by banning ‘containers’ and ‘packages’.”

Reusable plastic bags became the norm in Austin after the 2013 ban, but you could still find some single-use bags in convenience stores and restaurants. Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman

From Chuck Lindell’s story:

Although the decision upheld a lower-court ruling that struck down a bag ban in Laredo, the same state law apparently preempts similar bans in Austin and about a dozen other Texas cities.

The Laredo case was widely watched for its potential impact.

On one side were environmentalists, wildlife advocates and city officials who argued that bag bans are essential to managing litter — a goal that protects animals, saves cleanup costs and limits damage to clogged sewers and drains.

They were opposed by retailer groups, limited-government advocates and the Texas attorney general who argued that the bans hurt businesses and create a patchwork of rules that vary across the state.

The Austin City Council decided in 2012 to require retailers not to use single-use bags, with some exceptions for convenience stores and restaurants. Many stores, including Whole Foods, were already using paper and other reusable bags, but they became commonplace after the ban went into effect. Ra1ph Barrera/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

A few years ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying using reusable bags, especially when it meant that my front yard didn’t collect bags strewn about in the wind and I didn’t see a single littered bag as I commuted to work.

Five years later, I still forget to bring my ever-growing stack of reusable bags into the store sometimes, but even if I have to spend 25 cents to buy one now and then, I can only imagine how many flimsy bags I would have thrown away in that time. (Thousands, surely.)

What do you think of today’s decision to reverse the bag ban? Do you think local stores will be quick to start giving away the flimsy plastic bags again? Will the culture of reusable bags remain?

 


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