If you’ve ever seen “The Graduate,” chances are that movie’s second-most famous quote is firmly etched in your mind: “I want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”
The character who uttered those words predicted a great future in the plastic industry. But the Moab City Council is considering a proposal that would make one type of plastic — namely, single-use, carry-out plastic bags — a thing of the past in Moab.
At its next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 28, the council plans to review a proposed ordinance that would prohibit the use of carry-out plastic bags in the city limits. As it’s currently written, the draft would not apply to other kinds of plastic bags, such as thicker and more durable lead-free ones that can be reused, or bags that shoppers use to package fruits, vegetables and other bulk items.
If the council approves the ordinance, the current wording calls for it to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. After that time, a business that violated the proposed ban could face a fine of up to $250 for the first violation, following a written warning within a one-year time frame. For second and subsequent violations, the maximum allowable fine would double, to $500.
Former Mayor Dave Sakrison last brought up the idea of a carry-out plastic bag ban during a city council meeting in November 2014. But that idea quickly faded away and didn’t resurface until last month, when Utah State University-Moab Sustainability Extension Specialist Roslynn Brain asked the current council to consider a similar proposal modeled after a Park City ordinance.
Council members voiced support for the idea, which aims to minimize impacts that plastic bags have on the environment. But they agreed that city officials should first step up their community outreach efforts, while taking more time to study similar ordinances that are on the books in Park City and elsewhere.
“I think we all just want to pick up on the lessons learned from other communities so this thing … if we’re going to do it, it has the best chance of passing as possible,” Moab City Council member Rani Derasary said. “There are just a few little legal lessons and things people have learned.”
“I think it’s really important that we take this step, but also that we bring the whole community along, so that we have businesses that can be advocates,” council member Kalen Jones said. “I want us to be able to be a positive example, and have enough engagement that our local businesses can actively advocate for it.”
Council member Mike Duncan said he’d like to move forward with the draft ordinance, as long as potential amendments can be incorporated, and members of the public have more opportunities to weigh in on it.
“If we were to try to enact passage tonight, I think it would be premature,” Duncan said at the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany asked council members to give city staffers as much direction as they can, noting that they still have to determine how they would codify the proposal, and how they could enforce it.
“… I want to make sure … that it will hold up and stand up and accomplish what the council wants to accomplish,” McAnany said.
Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd suggested that the council needs to clarify the purpose behind the draft plan.
“I was going to ask, ‘What is our goal here? What are we trying to get people to do?’” she said.
For Knuteson-Boyd, a ban on carry-out plastic bags would be just a start to address related issues: She said would like to see the council team up with local schools on educational campaigns that raise awareness about littering, among other things.
“I think people just aren’t aware,” she said.
BAN PROPONENT CITES BAGS’ ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS
If the city adopts the ordinance, Brain said that an anonymous donor has committed funding to any efforts that would help shoppers purchase reusable bags.
In a brief July 27 presentation to the council, Brain said the county’s solid waste district reported $10,000-plus in costs to control wind-blown litter — including plastic bags — at Klondike Landfill. Yet the issue of plastic bag usage extends far beyond Moab and Grand County, and Brain cited the much broader impacts that the bags have on the global environment.
According to statistics that she presented to the council, shoppers use their carry-out plastic bags for an average for 12 minutes, but the material may take 500 years to degrade once it ends up at landfills.
An average American family takes home about 1,500 plastic grocery bags each year, she said, yet only 1 percent of those are recycled. Altogether, she said, Americans use 100 billion plastic bags each year, and it takes 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture that amount. To put that number in perspective, she said it’s the equivalent of more than 1.5 million car trips from Seattle to Miami.
It also takes energy from fossil fuels to produce those bags, she said, and they make up a sizable percentage of the discarded plastic that’s polluting the planet’s oceans. By her estimates, plastic kills 100,000 marine mammals killed each year, and researchers found that one in three leatherback sea turtles have plastic bags — which resemble jellyfish, a favorite food — in their stomachs.
CITY MARKET VOWS TO SUPPORT COUNCIL DECISION
Assuming that the council approves the proposed ordinance, it would affect all of Moab’s major retailers, including City Market, Village Market and Walker Drug.
Moab City Market Manager Brendon Cameron said his company will go along with any decision that the council makes, noting that it operates stores in other communities where similar bans have taken effect.
“Really, truly, whatever the city decides, obviously, we’re going to stand with it in support,” he told the council.
However, Cameron noted that the market already has a bin where shoppers can recycle their plastic bags. Plastics that end up in the bin are shipped in pallets to a City Market warehouse, and the material is ultimately repurposed into Trex-brand decking materials.
“I think we’re the only ones in the city that can recycle the plastic bags, and we’re more than happy to help, to add bins, or to do whatever else needs to be (done),” he said.
In keeping with what he views as city leaders’ vision of a more sustainable future, Cameron said that City Market’s Moab store is on track to be a zero-waste business within the next seven years.
“We’re about 60 percent there,” he said.
“That means we’re going to divert everything from the landfill by 2025,” he added. “We have (taken) some pretty aggressive (steps) to be able to do that.”
Village Market Owner John Buxman Jr. could not be reached for comment this week.
But Buxman previously told the Moab Sun News 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 past support for more local discussion of the issue came with a caveat: He wanted to make sure that any ban would be applied across the board, instead of targeting grocery stores, 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.
A Village Market shopper who declined to give her name said she has no strong feelings about a possible ban on plastic bags.
“It doesn’t bother me to use any kind of bag,” the woman said. “I wouldn’t really care either way.”
But visitor Nick Nuss of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said he’s all for the proposed ban.
Nuss, who works at a Whole Foods Market, noted that his employer offers its customers paper bags instead of plastic ones. It also encourages them to bring their canvas bags or other reusable bags with them, and Nuss suggested that other grocery stores could cut back on waste if they handed them out to first-time shoppers.
“I try to avoid plastic whenever I can,” he said.
Another Moab grocer, Moonflower Community Cooperative, has not offered plastic bags to its shoppers since 2011, and instead requires patrons to bring their own bags or use one of the store’s canvas bags or cardboard boxes to carry out their groceries.
“The reason we don’t use plastic bags is because of the environmental impact, and also, there are a number of other options to offer to customers instead of plastic bags,” Moonflower Community Cooperative Manager Derek Whitworth said. “The reality is, it won’t be difficult to transition away from plastic bags.”
Officials seek community feedback on idea ahead of vote
“I think it’s really important that we take this step, but also that we bring the whole community along, so that we have businesses that can be advocates.”