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DMN Editorial: Dallas should ban plastic shopping bags

March 9, 2014

Dallas Morning News


There are few testaments to our society’s convenience like the plastic shopping bag. Take one when you buy a candy bar. Take two dozen when you fill your shopping cart. Take as many as you like. They’re free.


Except they aren’t. The bags extract a cost we see in creek beds, in sewer lines and landfills. They whip in the wind and snag in our trees, the fruit of litter that’s always in season.


Dallas should ban thin plastic shopping bags. The alternatives — a fee for bags, a refund for their return or a better recycling program — are less effective or ineffective ways to deal with the problem the bags create.


If the Dallas City Council is serious about a cleaner city, banning bags is the right step.

Other major cities, including Austin, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have implemented bans that resulted in dramatic drops in bag litter.


In Washington, where a fee was adopted, collections have remained stable, suggesting consumers simply adjust to the cost. Even strong recycling programs recapture only a fraction of bags and don’t reduce the number used.


In cities with bans, consumers quickly adapt to reusable bags. Stores have also made boxes available for customers.


Retailers and bag manufacturers are correct that plastic bags represent a fraction of litter. Styrofoam, cigarette butts, beer cans, old tires — just about anything — gets dumped.

But few products are as easily replaced as the plastic bag. And none are so light, yet durable, that they blow everywhere and are so difficult to clean up. The bags cannot be recycled in city bins but must be dropped off at participating stores.


Concern that a ban will cause shoppers to take their business to the suburbs appears overblown. City officials in Austin and Seattle report no significant impact on business. The likelihood that existing recycling programs would disappear isn’t worrisome since so many bags would disappear with them. Fear of bacterial contamination reads like a scare tactic. Cities that adopted bans haven’t reported sickness outbreaks.


Any ban should have exceptions, and every major city that has adopted one has excepted, or just not included, carry-out food, dry cleaning and, yes, newspaper delivery. There are some uses where only a plastic bag will do.


But at the grocery counter, a canvas sack or a cotton bag does just as good a job.


The ban should be flexible. Retailers and manufacturers should be able to get approval for products that accomplish the goal of reducing bag litter. And no ban should take effect for at least a year after the council adopts it. Retailers should be able to use up their inventory, and consumers should have time to adjust to the change.


But the time for that change needs to come. The city will be better, and more beautiful, for it.


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