Plastic bags at Kroger

The proposed bag-fee law previously proposed but later tabled by Athens City Council would charge 10 cents per plastic or paper single-use bag at stores that sell food. Above, a shopper loads packed bags into his car in the Athens Kroger parking lot. 

Athens City Council unanimously approved a resolution Monday to encourage city residents and retailers to reduce single-use plastic and paper-bag litter, and to monitor those efforts.

The resolution sets out a variety of ways for the city to accomplish these goals, including working with area organizations to encourage recycling of paper and plastic bags, and to collect data on the number of these carryout bags used by retailers, as well as how many are returned to the retailers for recycling or are reused.

The city is also planning to partner with local organizations to measure the amount of single-use bag litter on city roadways and waterways, and encourage the use of reusable bags.

The resolution concludes the first episode of a controversy spurred earlier this year by City Clouncil’s efforts to regulate and limit the use of plastic and paper carryout bags (aka, “single-use”) that are used locally. Originally, the city received quite a bit of blowback from area residents when council members debated a possible 10-cent fee per each paper or plastic bag used at most retailers in Athens. That’s no longer part of the resolution the city approved this week.

However, the resolution does contain language noting that if recycling “and/or” bag reuse rates are below 70 percent, or if disposal and littering of single-use bags does not decline by 30 percent by 2018, the city will commit to “evaluation for appropriate mitigation for the environmental impacts” of the bags. Essentially, the resolution doesn’t preclude the city from exploring something similar to the previously discussed bag fee in the future.

At-large Athens City Council member Jennifer Cochran, who introduced the bag-fee ordinance originally (which was tabled), said the resolution was crafted after hearing a lot of feedback from community members.

“This resolution has had a great deal of input from various community members, as well as the Sustainability Commission, the Athens (Area) Chamber of Commerce, and other concerned citizens who participated in a series of community conversations,” she said.

Multiple City Council members and Mayor Steve Patterson commended Cochran for listening to feedback and changing the ordinance after the blow-up earlier this year. Council member Chris Fahl said that Cochran took “a lot of heat for something that quite surprisingly didn’t warrant” that heat.

“We pride ourselves on being a progressive, enlightened city, and quite frankly I thought that (backlash was) because of certain people having issues and it being in the summer, and we were told basically by some of the media people that, ‘Ooh, we can make a really big deal about this,’” Fahl said. “That’s unfortunate because there are cities all over the United States that have passed them (single-use bag fees or bans).”

At-large council member Peter Kotses said that as a local business owner, he felt that regulations regarding single-use bags would not be a “deal-breaker” for most businesses in Athens.

“There are so many other things that business people have to tackle that are just so much bigger and affect the business financially in so many other ways,” Kotses said. “I was kind of disappointed to see a few people come out and speak that way (against the bag regulations). The majority of my conversations with other business owners were good.”

Patterson commended Cochran for listening to his own concerns about the former bag-fee ordinance, and said he felt the resolution was a good compromise.

Some of the city’s issues with plastic bags are specifically noted in the “whereas” portion of the resolution, including:

• Use of single-use bags has a “significant impact on the local environment, including contributing to litter on streets, sidewalks and public spaces, and polluting waterways like the Hocking River.”

• Use and disposal of single-use plastic bags into the “local waste stream” apparently creates a burden on the city’s waste-disposal resources and storm-sewer system, “clogging storm sewers.”

• Production of plastic bags worldwide “requires the use of more than 12 million barrels of oil per year, which also has a significant environmental impact and results in the generation of greenhouse gas emissions.”

• “Billions” of plastic single-use carryout bags are used in Ohio each year, and only approximately 5.2 percent are recycled, according to the EPA.

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