Published On: Wed, May 20th, 2015

Dallas plastic bag debate is worth recycling

AUSTIN (Scrap Monster): That’s what Dallas City Council member Dwaine Caraway is willing to do to preserve the city’s crackdown on plastic bags.

Caraway’s successful campaign to curb the use of plastic bags in Dallas always rubbed me the wrong way because, in the end, the law the city backed included a nickel-per-bag environmental fee that was passed on to consumers.

plastic recycling

Dallas plastic bag debate is worth recycling

The city, which keeps 4.5 cents for each paper or plastic carryout bag sold, raked in $520,300 from businesses during the first quarter of this year.

“That was not my idea,” Caraway told me Friday. “That was the [plastic bag] manufacturers and retailers that pushed and wanted the fee. That wasn’t us.”

What Caraway wanted was a total ban on the thin plastic carryout bags, because they had become an eyesore in his district and an environmental hazard.

“A compromise came about that created that fee,” Caraway said. “And now we’re saying we can just ban flimsy plastic bags altogether and relieve consumers of the fee.”

And there you have it: Less than five months after Dallas began enforcing its single-use carryout bag ordinance, city officials are poised to tweak or toss it.

At least a third of council members want a total repeal of the ordinance, which was approved in March of last year and went into effect Jan. 1. That’s not going to happen, Caraway assured me.

Another third, led by Caraway, wants to modify the law by ditching the 5-cent fee and regulatory requirements in favor of an outright ban on plastic bags.

Both factions have sent memos to Mayor Mike Rawlings, who says he’s not decided in which camp he’ll end up. The four remaining council members didn’t sign either memo.

But Caraway said Friday he’s quite confident that a majority of council members are ready to side with him. “We’ve got our votes,” he said.

Frankly, I’m OK with the idea of an outright ban on plastic bags — if for no other reason than it would simplify things at checkout.

I quickly grew tired of this question as I stared at items impossible to haul out with my bare hands: “Sir, would you like a bag?”

That was followed immediately with this: “That will be an extra 5 cents — per bag.”

On occasion, I found myself dashing back out to the van to retrieve a bag. That trick didn’t work well when other shoppers were in line waiting to check out.

Once, I proudly carried a reusable bag in the store, only to find it wasn’t big enough. So I still had to buy a couple of bags.

And how can I ever forget the poor lady in front of me who was hurriedly checking out at a convenience store. She swiped her debit card and stuck it back in her purse and was ready to go — until she heard the clerk say, “Oops, I forgot to charge you for the bags. You owe me 10 cents.”

The woman stood there for a second — seemingly in disbelief — before whipping her debit card back out. “I’ve got it,” I said, reaching in my pocket for a dime.

The clerk, noticing the woman shaking her head at the confusion, piped up, “We don’t like it any more than y’all do. We [are] the ones that have to deal with the customers.”

Half of the respondents questioned in a poll last month by The Dallas Morning News said they didn’t like the fee, while 41 percent were OK with it.

Other cities across Texas and from California to New York have imposed similar bag bans and user fees that are designed to reduce litter and protect the environment.

The public, for the most part, seemed to be adjusting to the policy, said Dallas Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata.

The city registered just a few dozen public complaints about the law in the first quarter, he said.

“Change is hard,” Zapata said Friday. “Changing people’s behavior is a challenge.”

True. That’s why I’m convinced it will be easier to rid Dallas streets, alleys, creeks and landfills of plastic bags if the city simply bans them.

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