Twin Cities suburb heads for showdown with plastic bags

St. Louis Park is about to do something no other city in Minnesota has done. It’s considering banning plastic bags.

“I hope St. Louis Park will be a leader on this,” City Council member Tim Brausen tells the Star Tribune. “I think it’s time to be forward-looking and intelligent about our use of resources. I don’t think we can pursue what’s cheapest and easiest any longer. We have to look at what’s healthy and sustainable.”

City officials say they won’t go ahead with the ban until they’ve discussed it with city residents.

Well, then. You’re on, St. Louis Park residents.

“I feel totally good about it,” Vitaly Koval, a coffee shop and cafe owner said. “As an observant Jew, [I believe] everyone should be responsible not only for themselves, but for the future, the kids, the people around you.”

The big user of plastic bags, of course, is the grocery store industry. And, assuming you’re still already given a choice between plastic or paper, people have already spoken on the question.

Plus they may have dog waste to pick up.

It’s also unclear whether the plastic bag ban would extend to newspaper carriers, who need the bags to keep the paper from getting wet on mornings like today.

But the plastic bag industry is ready for the fight. They say the fact plastic bags are reused makes them more efficient than paper. And they say reusable cotton bags — tote bags, for you public radio types — need to be used 131 times before they become “greener” than a plastic bag.

Graphic: Bag the Ban website.

But the environmentalists counter that it takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade.

It says the average family accumulates 60 plastic bags with just four trips to the grocery store.

Curiously, the ReUseIt website says the solution is not a ban on plastic bags.

The solution is not a plastic bag ban, which is an emotional response which fails to strike at the heart of the issue; instead of a market-based solution, a ban shifts production to paper bags and compostable bags, both of which have heavy environmental consequences.

• The solution is not switching to paper bags or compostable plastic bags. A study on the life cycle of three types of disposable bags (single-use plastic, paper, and compostable plastic) showed that both compostable plastic and paper bags require more material per bag in the manufacturing process. This means “higher consumption of raw materials in the manufacture of the bags…[and] greater energy in bag manufacturing and greater fuel use in the transport of the finished product. …The added requirements of manufacturing energy and transport for the compostable and paper bag systems far exceed the raw material use in the standard plastic bag system.” (from a peer reviewed Boustead Consulting & Associates report)

• supports a multi-pronged approach that discourages the distribution of plastic bags with a tax and a cultural shift away from use-and-toss plastic bags.

A plastic bag tax? Funny you should mention it.

The Washington Post this week released an investigation into whether the District of Columbia’s 5-cents tax on plastic bags is working.

Since its inception six years ago, the tax has brought in more than $10 million, the Post reported.

It showed wide disagreement on how big of a reduction has been induced in the use of bags. It also found that a third of the money was used for salaries and administration costs for people who were already working in their jobs before the tax was imposed.

Dallas imposed a similar tax this year. But earlier this month, the plastic bag industry filed a lawsuit against it, claiming Texas law prohibits such a tax.

There’s no talk of a tax in St. Louis Park, apparently. But the City Council member who campaigned on reducing plastic bag use in the city suggests it’s put up or shut up time.

“To me, it seems pretty simple,” Tim Brausen said. “We just have to have the political will to do it.”

Background: MPR News: Communities wrestle with the menace of plastic bags.