Officials in the city of Austin, TX, have begun enforcing a single-use plastic and paper bag ban that's one of the most comprehensive of its kind in the nation. The ordinance, which legislators passed unanimously last year, allows most retailers to only provide customers with plastic bags that are at least four millimeters thick, paper bags that are made of 40% recycled content and reusable bags like totes. "We understand it will be an adjustment," says Courtney Black, a city spokesperson. "Hopefully shoppers can adapt and businesses can adapt."
As in other cities, there are exemptions to the ban. "You will still see produce bags and bags you can put your meat in," Black says. "Some restaurants are exempt and they can use the plastic bags for take-away food. Pharmacies will still provide small paper bags given with prescriptions." To help consumers and businesses prepare for the ban, which went into effect on March 1, Austin held several reusable bag giveaways and spent $850,000 on an education campaign. "That includes marketing and advertising to let shoppers know what to expect," Black says.
Although the ban has strong support among city leaders, the new law has vocal critics as well. The Texas Retailers Association (TRA) recently filed a lawsuit challenging the ban, arguing the ordinance violates the state's health and safety code. "The language seems to be squarely on point," says Ronnie Volkening, president of the TRA. "Local governments may not enact ordinances that restrict or prohibit use of containers or packages such as plastic bags. Our position has been that voluntary market-based solutions would work better."
In its suit, the TRA is petitioning a county court to strike down the ban. In a statement, Austin city officials said they fully intend to defend the ordinance before a judge.