Anchorage assembly considers banning disposable plastic bags

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

The Anchorage Assembly is considering an ordinance that would ban plastic shopping bags, a policy that other communities in Alaska have implemented.

On July 17, assembly members introduced two versions: one enforces the ban and the other enforces the ban with the option of alternative bags for a fee. AO 2018-63 prohibits the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags by retail sellers. The substitute version notes the same prohibition but also permits retail sellers to offer a reusable bag or recycled paper bag for a fee of 10 cents per bag.

“One is the original one that most cities use when they first try this. The substitute version is an improvement on that,” Assemblyman Dick Traini said. “That’s the vehicle I intend to push through the assembly.”

There would be penalties for businesses that fail to comply: the first offense for providing or distributing a disposable shopping bag would be a warning. A second offense would be $250 per violation, and the third and subsequent offenses would be $500 per violation.

If the substitute ordinance is enacted, the same fees would apply to offenses for failing to charge for a recycled paper or reusable bag.

In 2009, Hooper Bay and Bethel were among the first communities to ban plastic bags in Alaska. Wasilla joined the list this year with a ban that was effective July 1.

Representative Andy Josephson of the Alaska Legislature proposed a statewide tax on disposable plastic bags earlier this year with House Bill 264. The tax would have been 20 cents per bag, but the bill failed to move beyond the Rules Committee in April.

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Christopher Constant, assemblyman, is also in support of the Anchorage ordinance. He said the details are being considered in the coming weeks as the assembly holds meetings and public testimonies.

The language in the ordinance drafts refer to retail sellers and Constant does not think the ban will apply to businesses outside of that.

“I don’t think it’s going to impact restaurants or farmers’ markets, but those are the details we’ll have to sort out because right now, it’s [a blanket approach],” Constant said.

Suzanna Caldwell, public information officer for the Anchorage Municipality’s Solid Waste Services, said they do see “a lot” of plastic bags at the landfill.

“Plastic bags are really challenging for us because they do cause a litter problem. It’s pretty easy for those bags to get blown around,” Caldwell said. “We put up litter fencing and we have laborers that go around and actually pick up the trash, but there’s so many. It’s almost impossible to get them all.”

“I think people would like to see us not have single-use things that clutter our community, and so the trick there is just writing one that doesn’t end up promoting any worse conduct,” Assemblyman Eric Croft said.

A public hearing will be held Aug. 31 at Anchorage City Hall where residents can deliver testimonies regarding the ordinance.

“Hopefully, this will encourage people to take bags with them to the store — reusable bags — and take the products home with them,” Traini said.

“Generally, I think it’s a good idea. We just have to work to do it right,” Croft said.