TEXAS–The Single-Use Carry Out Bag Ordinance, which took effect in Austin last year, forbids most retailers from giving out plastic shopping bags in an effort to encourage the use of reusable alternatives. In response to a flood of negative feedback regarding the ban, State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton) recently penned a letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott asking if the ban is enforceable–given Texas’ current health and safety laws.
The ordinance states that most Austin businesses are prohibited from providing “single-use carry-out bags to its customers or any person or entity and shall display signage to educate their customers about their bag options.” Since the ban was put in place last March, other Texas cities such as Corpus Christi have considered similar ordinances.
Flynn’s letter, which was received by Abbott’s office on March 4, asks the Attorney General to interpret a specific section of the Texas Health and Safety Code. The letter said, “At least nine cities in Texas have enacted bans on plastic bags and adopted fees on replacement bags in recent years. This appears to be in contravention of state law… I would like your opinion on the legality of these ordinances in light of the prohibition in Section 361.0961 of the Health and Safety Code.”
Section 361.0961 states that local government may not “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.”
Flynn told Caller.com that he wrote the letter after hearing from a significant number of Texans “inconvenienced” by the ban. He said, “I can’t begin to tell you how many phone calls we received about the legality of the bans.”
Supporters of the ban claim that it has a positive environmental impact–but not everyone agrees. Ronnie Volkening, the President and CEO of the Austin-based Texas Retailers Association, told Breitbart Texas, “The stated interest behind these bag bans is supposedly because they are good for the environment. But what is not considered is that most retailers resort to getting paper bags. Paper bags take more energy to make than plastic bags, they are seven times heavier, and they take up seven times more space. This means more trucks and gasoline are needed to transport them. Additionally, paper bags take 25 times more water to manufacture than plastic bags do. During a time of a drought, we think this is important to consider.”
Volkening also pointed out that the ban may be unfair to poor families. “We opposed the ban because we feel that it is regressive on families and lower income people,” he told Breitbart.
“Under the ordinance, you’re sometimes forced to use reusable bags that you need to pay for instead of complimentary bags,” Volkening added.
Many customers now shop outside of Austin city limits in order to avoid the ban. “Given that this is a ban that takes place in Austin but not in the neighboring cities, there are many customers that have made it known that they are going to other cities to make their purchases,” Volkening told Breitbart Texas. “So it has a detrimental impact on Austin businesses.”
Bob Gedert, the director of Austin’s resource recovery department, said the city will continue to enforce the ordinance despite the push back. He insisted that the ban has a positive environmental impact that is already noticeable. “We’re seeing positive results in Austin such as a dramatic reduction in the number of plastic bags found in creeks and parking lots and along city streets,” he told Caller.com.
Abbott’s response to Flynn’s letter, which will be issued in no more than 180 days, could influence other Texas cities considering a ban similar to Austin’s. However, the Attorney General’s opinion is merely a “persuasive authority,” Jeremy Brown of the University of Texas at Austin said. “Austin or some other city can’t be found to have broken the law just because it did something that an AG opinion says it wasn’t supposed to do.”
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