The Austin bag ban was not the perfect solution

Austin clearly wants to be a green city, but it is taking it a little bit too far with the bag ban.The “Austin Bag Ban” that went into effect March 1 has pros and cons, and both sides of the argument are viable and worthy of discussion. Is the city of Austin going to the extreme about being a “green city?” Are people really going to change their attitudes and awareness about recycling and using reusable bags because of this ban? Is it fair for retailers, from a huge grocery store like HEB or a local gardening store like Breed and Company, to have to completely change their bags and retrain employees? The city of Austin has created the bag ban in hopes that people will become environmentally friendly, but the city is taking large steps to become a green city very quickly.

On one hand, the environment deserves our attention and the theory of global warming is an ongoing issue. A single plastic bag can take anywhere from 15 to 1,000 years to decompose, and city of Austin officials say Austinites use 263 million plastic bags per year. When I first saw these numbers, I was astounded. The argument can be made that if we all would simply recycle the plastic bags we used then we wouldn’t have a problem; however, recycling is very expensive. Because of the extra cost of recycling these bags, many say it is easier and less expensive to use reusable bags.

Although the “Austin Bag Ban” has great intentions and might help Austinites reduce their carbon footprint, I believe there are problems associated with a ban such as this one. For example, the city has launched an $850,000 campaign to help get the word out about the bag ban and the funds are coming straight out of taxpayers’ pockets. There is also a huge burden on retailers to train employees on which bags are exempt from the ban (such as bags used for flowers or raw meat at grocery stores) as well as the requirement that retailers provide paper bags made of recycled material for purchases. Customers who do not bring their own reusable bags must pay for special bags or choose to go without a bag. Another potential repercussion is the impact the “Austin Bag Ban” has on tourism. Most tourists would be charged extra fees because of the policy they were previously unaware of, making Austin seem less hospitable.

The bag ban was a unique idea with good intentions, but I believe plastic bags should not be completely banned in such an abrupt manner. I think it would be better for the city to slowly encourage environmental efforts and maybe eventually start to say “NO” to more plastic bags. I think the city should have created initiatives that reward people for bringing in reusable bags, such as a small discount, in order to change the way people think about recycling and impacting the environment. When it comes down to it, everyone should want to do his or her part to make an environmental difference without having to grapple with bans imposed on them by the city.