Austin Plastic Bag Ban and Its Connection to Water

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Austin Plastic Bag Ban and Its Connection to Water

bird with bag over head1 249x300 Austin Plastic Bag Ban and Its Connection to Water

This scene happens more than you think…

While it seems like the plastic carryout bag has become synonymous with our Western “convenience” culture, I believe its days are numbered. The practice of carrying out groceries, food, and clothing purchases in plastic bags has become so second-nature for people that most people don’t even think about it or can’t even think about alternatives to plastic bags. Well, residents in Austin better become acquainted with the alternatives to single-use carryout plastic bags because the Austin Bag Ban has begun.

The single-use carryout plastic bag is certainly convenient but its use since the 1960s has definitely taken its toll on the environment. There is so much evidence out there about the affect of these single-use carryout bags on wildlife and sea life that its ban in communities across the world is certainly a welcome step to saving wildlife and sea life from premature death by ingestion of these bags or bag particles.

Before we get to some plastic bag infographics and the plastic bag’s connection to water, first some specifics of the City of Austin bag ban…

Overview: Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance

On March 2, 2012, the Austin City Council unanimously approved the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance, which took effect March 1, 2013. The ordinance regulates the types of bags that can be distributed by businesses in Austin and promotes a change to reusable bags. However, it does not completely eliminate all plastic or paper carryout bags.

Affected business establishments may not provide single-use carryout plastic bags to its customers or any person and shall display signage to educate their customers about their bag options. Now businesses are required to provide reusable bags at checkout, but the ordinance does not require businesses to charge a fee for reusable bags.

Reusable bag options include:

  • Plastic bags: 4 mil in thickness or greater with handles
  • Paper bags: made of 40% recycled content with handles
  • Cloth or another type of reusable bag made out of durable materials

Not all businesses are affected by the bag ban though. Below are the bags are exempt from the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance:

  • Laundry, newspaper, and waste bags: Bags used for laundry dry cleaning bags, door-hanger bags, newspaper bags. Packages of multiple bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or yard waste.
  • Pharmaceutical and veterinarian bags: Bag must be made of paper and used only for prescription drugs or other medical necessities.
  • Restaurant bags: Restaurant bag must be made of paper for take-away food. Single-use plastic bags are only allowed if necessary to prevent moisture damage, such as transportation of soups, sauces, salad dressing, and other liquids.
  • Non-Checkout Bags: Bags used inside the business to contain bulk items, to wrap frozen foods, to prevent moisture damage, and to contain unwrapped foods such as baked goods (i.e. produce bags).
  • Charity Nonprofits: Bags used by a nonprofit or other hunger relief organization to distribute food, clothing or other household items.

So What Are You to Do?

It’s simple… either bring a reusable bag from home or purchase a reusable bag at the store’s checkout. It may be difficult to remember to bring your own reusable bag at the beginning but eventually the habit will form. I have been doing a test run since the first of the year and there have been a few times that I did not get my reusable bags back into my car’s trunk before the next store visit. I believe in a few months to a year, the use of reusable bags will become second-nature to the residents of Austin.

What’s Wrong with Plastic Bags Anyway?

The infographic below sums up many of the connection points between plastic bags and water.  Due to how we collect our trash, it seems like plastic bags can get free of their “landfill bounds” and find their way to the ocean.  Here is where the plastic bags does the most damage to wildlife whether through prematurely killing wildlife or through the pollution of sea water by plastics.

Some of the statistics here are pretty sobering…

Suffocating the World Austin Plastic Bag Ban and Its Connection to Water
Infographic by LearnStuff

We have to get over this addiction.  The alternative is a simple habit change that will have no lasting effect on your lifestyle.  We are helping the environment specifically by helping to reduce the amount of plastic pollution in our oceans.

Austin may only be a very small portion of the total plastic bag usage in the world but I am glad that Austin is taking a stand.  Hopefully many other communities will take a stand as well.

Photo credit: Jon Bowermaster, Notes from Sea Level blog

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Chris Maxwell-Gaines
Chris Maxwell-Gaines
Civil engineer and urban planner focused on creating impacting and sustainable projects by identifying all of the hidden water conservation opportunities available. Particularly interested in working within the realms of sustainable site planning, conservation subdivision design, integrated water management and planning, and low impact development practices.
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