San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

by SEAN BATURA

A majority of the San Marcos City Council seems open to, if not enthusiastic about, a suggested ordinance prohibiting most merchants from providing free disposable plastic and paper shopping bags to customers.

Advocates for the bag ban say it would help the city fight litter and environmental contamination. Opponents, including a chemical company lobbyist who turned up at Tuesday’s city council meeting, say disposable bags are recyclable and reusable and it’s up to consumers to make their own decisions.

“Most people still use plastic bags and they will use them until they’re not provided anymore. This is because of convenience. That’s easy enough to understand. Myself and numerous community members, some of whom are here today, feel it’s time for the city to ask itself and its residents, ‘How much are we willing to pay for this small convenience?’” said Layne Duesterhaus, a San Marcos resident who leads the Environmental Conservation Organization’s Texas State chapter.

The group, represented at the council podium by about 10 supporters at this week’s regular council meeting, is pushing an ordinance patterned after one in Brownsville that prohibits merchants, with some significant exceptions, from giving customers disposable bags and requires business to charge a $1 fee for customers who request disposable bags. The Brownsville ordinance does not apply to retail clothing stores, convenience stores, dry cleaners, veterinarians, liquor stores, pharmacies, paper bags provided for food and drink carry-out purposes, and plastic bags intended to prevent contamination from any cooked, chilled or frozen food purchase.

Mike Meroney, a lobbyist representing the Texas Retailer’s Association (TRA) and Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council, said banning disposable bags limits options for consumers, many of whom reuse and recycle disposable bags.

“The personal responsibility aspect that seems to be lost in this is that [favoring an ordinance banning bags assumes] you don’t have any ability to do the right thing as a citizen,” Meroney said.

Meroney represents Texas Chemical Council at the state capitol, though not at San Marcos City Hall.

Mayor Daniel Guerrero and council members Kim Porterfield and Jude Prather appear most receptive to bag restrictions, with Prather suggesting, variously, a five cent per bag charge for outlet mall customers or a ballot question on a ban next year.

Council members Fred Terry (whose single term at the dais is nearly expired) and Ryan Thomason seemed to be skeptical.

Thomason, who backed a nonbinding referendum this year that would have polled voters on whether to ban smoking in businesses, said at one point in the discussion that discarded cigarette butts pose more of a littering problem than plastic or paper bags.

Guerrero urged his colleagues, if they pursue a bag ban, to see it through and not be cowed by certain opposition.

The mayor said, “The only thing that I would ask the council to consider is, if we choose to move forward on this [bag issue], that we stay committed to it and not allow singular voices that come to us at the last minute to change our perspective on things…We were here a short period ago, staff put a tremendous amount of time into providing us with data, providing us with information, getting citizen input, and in the end, we did not move forward with a referendum [on public smoking] to put forward to the ballot.”

The council voted 4-3 on Aug. 3 to abandon putting a citywide public smoking ban on the ballot for the Nov. 8 election after the city had held two open houses on the subject.

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13 thoughts on “City moves forward with bag ban analysis

  1. Plastic shopping bags are nothing compared to all the plastic trash bags going to the landfill, not to mention all the used disposable diapers. If you want to ban plastic then go after those first> *roll*

  2. You have got to be kidding. Nothing says young, inexperienced council/mayor like jumping in with two feet on a fake issue. The citizens will be left to deal with the hassle at the grocery store, while the council members will be complimented at conferences on being progressive. Any council member that voted against the smoking ban but votes for the bag ban (read “Jude Prather”) doesn’t really believe in letting businesses decide and individual responsibility — they were lying. The bags pose no hazard — they are reusable and recyclable and amazingly handy. Jude, I think the Nazis banned plastic bags.

    These ten students who think that packing luggage for a trip to the grocery store is a “small” inconvenience do not yet know what life is like — when you grab groceries on the fly on the way home from work or already have to grocery shop with your kids and ten other distractions. The last thing you need on top of everything else is having to pack luggage for the trip so the council feels warm and fuzzy.

  3. I think you are being a little extreme. Who said anything about luggage? One reusable bag can fit 3 or 4 times as many groceries as a plastic bag. Sometimes more, depending on your load. They fold up and you can easily just keep one under the seat in your car at all times for those “on the fly” stops at the store. Plus, I doubt you buy ALL of your weekly groceries during your “on-the-fly” trips, so I’m sure you could easily get off of your plastic-bag-training-wheels and put your kids to work by having them carry any items that can’t fit into your one cloth bag.

    You don’t have to say goodbye to your handy plastic bags. You’ll still be getting better quality plastic bags at all the retail outlets that would be exempt from this idea. Those are the ones that are worth reusing and they are actually useful because they don’t break after one use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost picked up dog shit with a busted cheap HEB bag. What are they good for if half of them break after one use? That’s not really “reusable”.

    I agree that there are more pressing issues for this town at this moment, and I was a little suprised that the council is considering this, (after denying the smoking ban), but it can’t hurt to do a little progressive thinking and open our minds a little to how we could adapt to an ordinance like this. It’s not the end of the world, I promise.

  4. Hopefully the citizenry will find it important enough to speak up to Council and let them know what a dumb idea this is. We don’t need special interest groups dictating policy for our little town.

    Perhaps, as “skeptical” noted, we may also point out the inconsistency of blowing up a smoking ban under the “business’ rights” argument, yet proceeding on this strikingly similar issue…..

  5. @aquafresca By your rational for outrage, very little is the end of the world and we can adjust to almost any ordinance the city wishes to pass. Yet there is no denying this proposed ordinance inconveniences citizens if it were passed and infringes on the liberty to bag as you please. Some intrusions on liberty are necessary in the name of society, but this one certainly is not necessary. For me, the inconvenience greatly outweighs the possible benefits. I oppose it and now is the time for opposition — during the consideration.

    If you prefer the alternative bags, you can use them right now. Few prefer them, which is why so few use them. What the reusable bag special interest could not win in the court of public opinion, they are trying to force through ordinances and laws which seems like the more extreme position to me. I do not want to tell you what to do at the grocery store or even give you any helpful suggestions of how to cope with my preference. I want you to do at the grocery store as you please.

  6. I agree that these bags should be managed and re-used- like we do at my house- with the little wall-mounted bad holders. However, the last thing we need is more government telling us what to do in our lives. This is a personal responsibility that can be accomplished without laws being passed. This is as ridiuclous as saying “ban kitchen knives” because one might be used as a weapon some day. Like my Dad used to say “Use your head” and turtles will not be choking on these useful, everyday conveniences of life.

  7. Banning bags is pointless and I hope it doesn’t pass. We reuse pretty much every bag we bring home. They make great can liners, cat-litter holders and are convenient for nasty crap I don’t want to put directly into my trash can(like chicken guts). I can carry almost all my groceries in from the car in one trip because these bags are so convenient. Plus, I’ve been told they’re made in Texas so we need to keep Texans working. Please drop it council – let Austin be out on the fringe with this experiment.

  8. STUPID!!!!! Sounds like someone is trying to get re-elected. I truly hope that our elected officials will not fall for this absurd measure that will have absolutely NO effect on our environment and a huge effect on our citizens. Unless the city is going to give out free green grocery bags to every citizen. I wonder how much money HEB is putting behind this push. Hmmm. Just Saying..Oh ya, let’s keep Austin 30 miles away..

  9. Liberty dies from ten thousand paper cuts. These people simply don’t believe in individual liberty. They know what is best for all of us and they intend to force the rest of us into compliance because, naturally, they do it for our own good. They will never be satisfied. It never, ever, ever ends.

  10. I’d rather existing litter laws be enforced and fines collected. Now if someone talks about Bud light cans having a sky-high deposit charged at the register, I’d listen.

    Moved-on is right: that’s a lot of money adding up for the HEB.

    Skeptical: I’m always surprised how many people I *do* see using reusable bags.

  11. “I’d rather existing litter laws be enforced and fines collected. Now if someone talks about Bud light cans having a sky-high deposit charged at the register, I’d listen.”

    I’m for that. There are lots of plastic bags blowing around San Marcos, along with beer cans/cases, fast food wrappers/bags, etc. Let’s do something to get the litter under control. Get people cleaning it up for community service, or something.

    We use reusable bags, or no bags at all, most of the time. I don’t really see where the government needs to be involved.

  12. I think we should collect a time waste fee from all council members when they bring up ideas like this. 1 dollar per every minute spent per memeber on this issue.

  13. There are more important things to ban besides these bags. For example the smart meters which are mandatorily attached to all of our houses emitting micro waves. To bad the city is wasting time on such a non-issue in this economic downturn.

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