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.Email | Print