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Council members hear toned-down proposal for bag ban ordinance

Friday, February 10, 2012 by Michael Kanin

The latest version of the Austin Resource Recovery department’s Single Use Retail Carry-Out Bag Ordinance – the so-called bag ban – would end wide retail use of plastic bags by March 2014. However, it also includes a handful of variances and hardship exceptions that would allow some level of plastic bag use after that date.


The news came as Austin Resource Recovery Director Bob Gedert presented the third version of the plan to City Council on Thursday. Gedert’s presentation included a review of issues raised throughout the public input process, and a selection of options for resolving them. The measure is set for a public hearing on March 1.


If approved as is, the ordinance would take effect in three phases. The first of these – a wide-reaching education effort – would begin on Council approval and would last a year. The next phase, what ARR calls the transition phase, would aim to wean consumers off of single use bags, and had included a surcharge that would assist in that effort. The final phase would be the permanent single-use bag ban.


The temporary surcharge was among the issues raised by Gedert. He noted that it could be a challenge to implement, specifically in accounting for collected fees, and how they might be used. In front of Council on Thursday, Gedert and his team backed off the surcharge. “Staff recommendation in consideration, after the publication of the current draft ordinance, is to transition from the education phase to full implementation without the surcharge,” he said.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell was pleased with Gedert’s offer to drop the fee. He later addressed the issue of education. “I’m all in favor of (the education period),” he said. “I just want to remark that for the last five years, we’ve had an education period. We’ve had a lot of public involvement with regard to reuse recycling. We have but about a million of these reusable bags in circulation. This is not something we’re springing on folks.”


Gedert also addressed the issue of including paper bags in the ban. “The current draft ordinance includes single-use paper bags as we transition to a more re-useable paper bag (with) handles,” he said. “There is the point well-raised that this was not mentioned in the original resolution(and) there has been some consideration of the issue in the public meetings.”


Here, staff also backed off a bit, offering a compromise that would allow limited use of the bags.


Gedert also noted that citizen input indicated a strong sentiment that there were too many exceptions included in the ban. He suggested that the final version of the ordinance should not exclude liquor providers. “I’m simply addressing that the removal of that exemption because of citizen complaints that we have too many exempt situations and I find that to be the most likely exemption to transfer over to reusables.”


The latest version of the ban includes a provision for a set of metrics that would allow both Gedert’s department and Council members to monitor the effects of the ordinance when it’s in place. Gedert suggested a partnership with the University of Texas to develop that data.

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