Should the city of Moab ban plastic take-out bags from retail businesses?

Mayor Dave Sakrison wants the Moab City Council to consider that question.

According to Sakrison, two representatives from the Utah League of Cities and Towns recently approached him with the suggestion that Moab could team up with Park City, Ogden and other municipalities around the state to enact prohibitions on plastic bags.

At this point, their idea is still in its formative stages, and Sakrison anticipates that it could undergo a legal review before the council actually votes on a formal proposal.

“I just want to be sure that before we go too far down that road, that this is not going to get held up, and that we’re not going to be sued,” he said Nov. 10.

Although Sakrison himself has no formal say over the idea, he hopes that council members will take a closer look at it.

“This won’t be my decision, but I’ll bring it before the council and see what they think,” he said.

Moab City Councilman Gregg Stucki said he wants to hear more arguments that address both sides of the issue before he casts his vote.

As a rule, though, Stucki said he’s hesitant to involve government in a business owner’s decision, or in the lives of consumers who choose not to shop with their own reusable bags.

“I know that plastic bags are a problem, but I’m not sure that a ban is the best way to go,” he said.

“I often feel that the responsibility needs to be on people, rather than rules and regulations,” he added. “If a store wants to do that, it’s great: They have the right to do that.”

Moab City Councilwoman Heila Ershadi has not taken a formal position for or against the idea of a ban or a tax on plastic carry-out bags, and she plans to hold off on doing so until the city reaches out to residents and businesses.

“I do feel like whatever we do, it needs to be done with lots of public outreach,” she said.

According to Ershadi, communication was key to a successful approach in Ireland, where a small tax on plastic carry-out bags led to an 80 to 90 percent reduction in the number of bags that end up in landfills.

“And it’s very popular,” Ershadi said. “They have not run into the opposition that places in the U.S. and other countries have run into.”

While she’s reserving judgment on the league of cities idea, Ershadi can see a major downside to consumers’ reliance on plastic bags.

“They are generating a cost that’s not recouped in any way,” she said.

“Their average use is about 15 minutes, and then they’re out there forever in the environment.”

The plastic bag manufacturing industry has increasingly promoted efforts to recycle its products, but Ershadi is not convinced that approach is the answer to the problem.

As she looked into the issue, Ershadi found that plastic bags from recycling bins are often shipped off for processing to countries that have very lax environmental standards. In some cases, they may be incinerated, and even if they are recycled, the shipping process is extremely energy intensive, she said.

Sakrison shares those concerns.

“Recycling those bags is not really a clean proposition,” he said.

As an alternative, Sakrison suggested that the city could distribute low-cost or no-cost reusable bags to local residents.

Walker Drug General Manager Vivian Klocko said that her business has tried something similar, to no avail.

“We tried to give away 500 (reusable) bags at our grand opening, but nobody wanted them,” she said.

To this day, Klocko said, only 10 of the 700 to 1,000 customers who walk into the store each day come with their own bags in hand.

“There are not as many as I would like, personally,” she said.

Klocko said she personally supports the idea of a ban.

However, she said that many of Walker Drug’s customers, including European tourists who are used to shopping with reusable bags on their home turf, will ask for plastic – even if it won’t hold anything more than a single banana.

“We try to prevent giving them out, but the customers want them,” Klocko said.

When Stucki heard responses like that one, he wondered aloud whether the city should get involved at all.

“If an overwhelming majority of people don’t seem to be concerned or aware of it, do we override (them)?” he asked.

For his part, Village Market owner John Buxman, Jr., is receptive to the idea, noting that he operates a number of stores in Colorado communities that have already enacted similar bans.

“We do business in a couple of different areas that have been through this process, and we’re fine with it,” Buxman said.

However, his initial support for further local discussion of the issue comes with a caveat: He wants to make sure that any ban would be applied across the board, instead of targeting groceries in particular.

The way that some local Colorado ordinances are worded has allowed major retailers like Walmart, Target and Lowe’s to continue bagging items in plastic bags.

“Companies that produce hundreds of times as much (in terms of plastic bag waste) are not held accountable,” he said.

Ershadi said she’s receptive to Buxman’s concerns about fairness.

“I think that totally makes sense,” she said. “Whatever regulation we (consider) should be fair, and not just target one business.”

Sakrison suggests that city could give reusable bags to shoppers

“This won’t be my decision, but I’ll bring it before the council and see what they think.”

City Market’s corporate office in Colorado could not be reached for comment by press time this week.