New draft excuses restaurants from bag ban

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Students ordering food to-go may be relieved to find the third draft of a ban on single-use bags in Austin will once again exempt restaurants from the proposed ordinance.

The City Council is set to discuss and possibly vote on the proposal in March. Should the ban pass, it would mean costumers would have to use reusable bags at retailers and grocery stores in Austin. Bob Gedert, director of Austin Resource Recovery, said the third draft would reflect several concerns that were raised about the proposal’s second draft, which was released on Jan. 6. The second draft also moved up the starting date of the ban from 2016 to 2013 and it added bans on single-use bags for take-out food at restaurants and bags given at pharmacies. After receiving public feedback, city officials began drafting a third proposal in response to the community’s concerns.

Texas Retailers Association CEO Ronnie Volkening, who stands with his organization in opposition to the bag ban, said prohibiting use of disposable bags at restaurants would pose a health issue.

“Suggesting you are going to have to bring a reusable bag to a quick service restaurant and have them take it back to the food preparation area and load up what could be a quite dirty bag creates all kinds of health issues,” Volkening said.

In response to concerns like Volkening’s, which were raised at a Jan. 11 city commission meeting, Gedert said the third draft will likely exempt restaurants and pharmacies from the ban, as the first draft originally did. Gedert said he is considering a new proposed timeline to set a one-year transition period from March 1, 2012 to March 1, 2013, when the ban would start.

Austin Resource Recovery is holding a public forum Jan. 30 to gather public feedback on the proposed ban. Gedert said the meeting will provide citizens with balanced information on the proposal.

“This is an opportunity for Austinites to plug into the conversation and give feedback,” Gedert said.

Volkening said he and the Texas Retailers Association will continue to meet with individuals in the Solid Waste Services Department and the city council to offer alternatives to banning plastic bags. Volkening said the attempt to ban plastic bags might have more to do with the city’s attempt to keep its environmental reputation.

“I think there has been a very active, aggressive push by environment groups that believe in order to have a reputation as a green city they need to ban plastic bags like a handful of other cities have,” Volkening said.

However, Gedert said positive impacts regarding environmental and economic considerations outweigh any issues or concerns the public may have.

Brownsville became the first city in Texas to place a ban on plastic bags when their ordinance was passed in January 2010, enforcing a ban in January 2011. Gedert said the final recommended ordinance could be similar with Brownsville’s ordinance.

Rose Timmer, executive director of Healthy Communities of Brownsville, said the ban was passed in response to the city’s drainage system being clogged with plastic bags in the aftermath of a hurricane. Timmer said the city has become cleaner since the ban came into effect.

“People who come into our city will not see plastic bags in the fields and in the drainage system and along the fences as much as you do in other cities,” Timmer said.

Printed on Thursday, January 19, 2012 as: Public expresses concern over bag ban