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Environmental Board suggests several revisions to city’s bag ban

Friday, February 17, 2012 by Michael Kanin

The Environmental Board proposed a host of changes to a potential city-wide ban on plastic bags at its monthly meeting on Wednesday night. Most of the changes were relatively minor.


But not for a lack of trying. An initial draft of the resolution, offered by board member Mary Ann Neely, would have dramatically accelerated the timetable for the ban. Had it passed, the board would have offered a Nov. 1, 2012 start date for the ban as part of its formal recommendation to City Council.


In the process, the board illustrated the fact that the proposed year of public education built into the current draft of the bag ban wasn’t entirely for the benefit of Austin’s citizens. “We need to put the educational period…in there,” said board Vice Chair Robin Gary, who connected the year-long education span to business needs.


“(Retailers) need at least a 12-month period to retool,” she added.


Neely’s resolution came out of conversations about the subject conducted by the Environmental Board’s Water Quality Regulations subcommittee. In it, she proposed that the board recommend the bag ban ordinance, with modifications. These included a strong recommendation that “the definition for ‘reusable carry-out bags’ be retained in the ordinance approved by council,” that council eliminate currently included exceptions for beer, wine, and spirit retailers, and the suggestion that the ordinance go fully into effect by November 1, 2012.


The move of the effective date of the ban brought a hefty amount of resistance from Neely’s fellow board members. Gary, acting as chair in the absence of Mary Gay Maxwell, suggested that a move to November wouldn’t provide enough time for retailers. “The November 1 deadline is too advanced,” she said. “This affects their business plan in a big way.”


Board member Robert Anderson agreed. “I’m a small businessman and I understand the issues of re-tooling,” he said. “I think a 12-month period is what I would support to both coordinate the education program and to give the businesses (time to implement the new rules).”


Anderson offered an amendment that reset the proposed full ban date to a year after the ordinance is passed. Board member Marisa Perales voted against Anderson’s move. “To me, the benefits that would be derived from starting the ban earlier outweigh what I see as the necessary timeframe for these businesses to re-tool.”


Neely joined her. The final vote on the date was 4-2 in favor of allowing a full year for adjustment to the new regulations. The board ultimately passed Neely’s resolution without further change by a 5-1 vote. James Schissler provided the lone ‘no.’


“At the end of the day, you have people who recycle and you have people who don’t reuse and recycle,” he said. Schissler invoked the allowable versions of bags under the ban, implying that they would only end up in the waste stream. “All we’re going to do is have a…heavier volume in the landfill.”


The director of Austin Resource Recovery, Bob Gedert, will present the bag ban to the City Council for approval on March 1. A vote is set to come after another public hearing on the matter.

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