Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Citing New State Law, Councilman Wary of Plastic Bag Ban

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2019 at 12:54 PM

click to enlarge plastic-bags-2.jpg

One Memphis City Council member is hesitant to move forward with a plastic bag ban here after a state law passed in April prohibiting cities from regulating the use of them.

Councilman Worth Morgan said the “merits of the discussion are an interesting topic,” but the conversation should be had with state legislators: “We’re having it in the wrong place in a city council committee room and not in Nashville.”

Morgan said the newly-passed state law that bans local governments from regulating the “use, disposition, or sale of an auxiliary container” prohibits all local regulation of plastic bags and that a “ban constitutes a regulation.”

“It would be my preference that if we want to have this conversation, we drive to Nashville,” Morgan said. “I think right now this ordinance doesn’t have a place in Memphis City Council.”

Councilman Berlin Boyd, a co-sponsor of the ordinance along with Chairman Kemp Conrad, told Morgan he “begs to differ” and that the council has an “obligation to do what you can as local legislators to try and circumvent what happens in Nashville.”

“If we weren’t creative in our thinking about removing the Confederate statues, Nathan and his comrades would still be in our parks,” Boyd said. “We took the risk and did something and guess what? Those monuments are gone.

“We owe it to everyone. It’s our job to take risks. Give this a chance to try to make Memphis a green and clean city.”

The ban in question would prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags at checkouts in retail establishments with 2,000 square feet or more. Each violation of the ordinance would result in a $50 fine.

Boyd, who first brought forth the idea of plastic bag regulation in November, said the goal of the ban is to protect the environment and reduce overall waste, citing plastic-bag-riddled streets, waterways, and trees.

“Waterway protection is extremely important,” he said. “No matter what media outlet you’re looking at, our sea animals are basically inhaling and eating plastic bags.”

Boyd also said taxpayers pay between $2.5 and $3.5 million a year for plastic bag removal.

Dennis Lynch, chair of the Sierra Club in Memphis told the council he supports the ban, saying that plastic bags “encourage the throw-away society instead of getting people to recycle.”

He also noted environmental concerns similar to Boyd’s.

Councilwoman Robinson raised practical questions about the ban, like the effect it would have on elderly shoppers. She said for them plastic bags are easier to carry than large paper or reusable bags.

“I don’t want us to make an environmental decision that has a negative impact on the people that actually live here,” Robinson said. “How are we going to make sure they have what they need?”

Robinson said the council should be “very thoughtful we don’t have any unintended consequences.”

Boyd said that is a conversation the council should be having anyway, as Kroger, which has more than a dozen stores here, plans to completely phase out plastic bags by 2025.

But, ultimately, Boyd said shoppers will have to make behavior changes. “People will have to adjust to it.”

Swearengen, echoing Robinson, voiced concerns from her constituents in Orange Mound who shop at the Midtown Kroger on Union. She said many don’t have cars and as a result, bike or use public transit to get there. It’s easier for them to carry plastic bags than paper bags when doing so, she said.

Swearengen noted that plastic bags can hang on the handlebars of a bike and that paper bags deteriorate in the rain.

To that, Councilwoman Gerre Currie said local organizations could provide cloth and other types of reusable bags.

“If this is something we are trying to do, the onus is on us to reach outside where we are sitting here and partner with organizations to provide free bags.”

The council is scheduled to take the second of three votes on the plastic bag ordinance Tuesday (today).

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