- Associated Press - Friday, November 1, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Environmental groups and activists in two Minnesota cities are advocating for a new strategy to encourage reusable rather than disposable bags.

Minneapolis and Duluth advocates are pushing for fees for paper and plastic bags, the Minnesota Public Radio News reported Friday. They want customers to think about whether they’re needed.

Bag It, Duluth and other environmental groups pivoted to this tactic after Minnesota prohibited cities from banning plastic bags in 2017.

Jamie Harvie, the group’s campaign director, said the state’s decision set the group back for a couple of months. “It sort of deflated our energy.”

State Rep. Pat Garofalo, who supported the state’s legislation, called it a message to local governments to focus on more important issues, “as opposed to what is at best a symbolic environmental issue.”

“Apparently they didn’t get the message,” he said.

Minneapolis City Council member Cam Gordon introduced the bag fees measure there. He said his constituents are demanding it.

“People have watched other countries and states and cities pass regulations about plastic,” Gordon said. “They see stories about damage that plastic is doing to the environment. And they’re also seeing litter in their neighborhoods.”

The ordinances would place a nickel fee on both paper and plastic disposable bags, which research suggest could be more effective.

“Fees are really the most effective mechanism,” said Jennie Romer, who’s been tracking legislation with the California-based Surfrider Foundation. “Fees make customers stop and think whether they need a bag at the register. (That’s when) we really see a huge reduction in plastic bag use.”

Tatiana Homonoff, a New York University behavioral economist, saw about a 40 percent drop in the use of disposable bags, within a month after a fee was implemented.

“This suggests there’s a lot of people who are just on the margin of using a reusable bag instead of a disposable bag,” Homonoff said. “So creating a policy that nudges them in that direction, with a very small incentive, has big effects on their consumption of these types of bags.”

But Duluth’s council revised the ordinance there to apply only to plastic bags.

The alteration frustrated people who’d been working to get the fee passed. They argue it defeats the point of encouraging a culture of reuse.

And research suggests that excluding paper bags from the fee will lead to an increase paper bag usage.

“If close substitutes are left unregulated, people are going to switch to using those unregulated bags instead,” said Homonoff.

Jamie Pfuhl, who is the president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, said the change to the ordinance is concerning. “There’s a dramatic cost difference between the two.”

Pfuhl, who doesn’t support bans or fees on bags, said plastic bags cost retailers about a penny or two. Paper bags can cost as much as 10 cents apiece.

The efforts in the two cities are part of a nationwide movement to reduce the use of plastic bags. But more than a dozen states like Minnesota have restricted local governments from banning disposable bags.


Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org

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