Grand County Council member Jaylyn Hawks went shopping at City Market on Wednesday, Sept. 12. Hawks was carrying reusable shopping bags and produce bags inside a backpack, as usual, and won't be affected in the future by a looming citywide ban on single-use, carry-out plastic bags.

[Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

BYOB, shoppers.

In other words, “Bring Your Own Bags” — not your own beer.

The Moab City Council voted unanimously on Monday, Sept. 10, to adopt an ordinance that bans the distribution of single-use, carry-out plastic bags in the city limits. Once it’s enacted, the ordinance will 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.

The new law is scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. After that time, a business that violates the 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 will double, to $500.

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus said the city will launch an advertising campaign to raise awareness about the looming ban. In the time between now and this coming January, officials also plan to hold an open house, which is tentatively set for some time in late October.

“What that does give us time for is to really do good outreach to vendors in the community to make sure that nobody’s caught off guard, as there is a fine if somebody violates this ordinance,” she told the council on Sept. 10.

Niehaus, along with Moab City Council members Kalen Jones and Tawny Knuteson-Boyd, said they have not heard any “serious” opposition to the ordinance. In fact, Jones said, city officials have the support of representatives from one key retailer in the community, noting that Moab City Market Manager Brendon Cameron volunteered to work with them on the issue.

Shortly after Cameron made that commitment, City Market parent company Kroger announced that it is phasing out the use of single-use carry-out plastic bags at its stores by 2025.

“Reusable bags are the solution we are working toward,” King Soopers/City Market Division spokesman Adam Williamson said in an email to the Moab Sun News.

While bans on plastic bags aren’t commonplace in Utah, Jones noted that municipalities like Park City have already taken similar steps to reduce plastic waste. 

“It didn’t seem like we were acting in isolation,” he told the Moab Sun News. “We may be a little bit ahead of the curve, but this is the direction we’re heading in.”

As the city’s representative on the Solid Waste Special Service District’s board, Jones noted that both entities highlighted the twin goals of waste reduction and waste diversion in their respective general planning documents.

The adoption of the ordinance comes at a time when the solid waste district is focused on reducing the amount of wind-borne trash around its landfills — particularly near the Klondike Landfill north of Canyonlands Field Airport. Despite their routine efforts to keep nearby areas clean, he said, plastic bags and other wind-blown debris remain a “constant headache” for district employees and volunteers alike.

“It seems like we get a lot of negative feedback about our facilities, and the greater amount of trash around them,” he said.

Going forward, Jones doesn’t expect that it will take much work to educate consumers about the ordinance, and how it will affect their shopping habits.   

“It’s not that hard to relearn how we approach it,” Jones said. “It’s standard operating procedure in some countries.”

“I myself have more (reusable bags) than I know what to do with,” he added.

Moab City Council member Tawny Knuteson-Boyd faces the same dilemma, if you could call it that.

“I probably have 15 of those silly things in my car,” she told the Moab Sun News.

Knuteson-Boyd said she doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur that the council’s action will solve a major problem like global climate change. Yet by taking one small step at a time, she said, it can help raise consumers’ awareness of their habits, and change them.

“I hope it make other cities or towns or even counties develop some awareness and think about what our habits do to our planet and our wildlife,” she said.

On a personal level, Knuteson-Boyd said, she’s hopeful that city officials won’t have to invoke the ordinance’s punitive provision very often. If they do use it, she said, she hopes they’ll do so sparingly.


For Moab City Council member Rani Derasary, the action is the latest one in a proud history of “firsts” that the city has taken, citing its past commitments to renewable energy.

While he ultimately voted in favor of the ordinance, Moab City Council member Mike Duncan questioned whether council members conducted enough public outreach ahead of time.

“I’m a little antsy about (saying), ‘Hey, we’re going to have a town hall meeting to tell you what we’ve just laid on you,’” he said. “I would rather have the business community, ideally … be privy to all this and maybe alter what we might want to do before we make a new law.”

Having said that, Duncan tied the action to recently announced efforts to clean up the massive plastic garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. The patch is, by some estimates, twice the geographic size of Texas.

“I won’t be here, but maybe my kids will be here, and they’ll say, ‘Hey dad, it’s gone,’ and we can say we helped a bit,” Duncan said. “That’s good.”


Utah State University-Moab Sustainability Extension Specialist Roslynn Brain brought the proposal to the council in July, raising concerns about the bags’ impacts on wildlife and the environment.

According to statistics that she presented earlier this summer, 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.

Moab City Council member Karen Guzman-Newton noted that the long-term, health-related implications of particles from slowly degrading plastics on human bodies are largely unknown.

Local resident Jason Ramsdell, meanwhile, said he’s been thinking about the issue lately in terms of the major problems that the world faces.

“We have global warming and species degradation and land degradation, and I started to think, ‘Is this really going to make a difference?’” Ramsdell said. “And realistically, probably not in the big picture. But what it will do (is) it will send a message that Moab is concerned about our environment and the landscape.”

That message, he said, will come at “very little” cost or inconvenience to Moab’s citizens.

“We can use paper bags; we can bring our own bags, which many of us are used to,” he said.

Although Ramsdell isn’t sure the ordinance will shape the bigger picture, Moab Solutions founder Sara Melnicoff believes it will make a “humungous difference” in the community.

Melnicoff, who is working behind the scenes with WabiSabi and other organizations and individuals to provide reusable bags at different locations, is out and about every day cleaning up trash around Moab. Perhaps more than anyone else, then, she sees firsthand just how prevalent stray plastic bags are in the community.

“I stopped counting one day after I picked up 60 plastic bags out of one lot,” Melnicoff said.

At the local level, she said, the ordinance can help “correct the harm” that humans have caused to the planet.

“It’s a huge step in the right direction, and the whole community supports it, that I know of,” she said.


Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany said he believes the council was right to be concerned about a gradual rollout of the ordinance, in the sense that it’s more likely to boost the rate of compliance among local business owners. 

It’s unlikely that anyone will challenge the ordinance, he said, when Niehaus asked him if he’s concerned about any “fear of retribution” from the plastic-bag manufacturing industry.

“I would be surprised,” McAnany said. “There is a larger trend where many large retailers are … moving away from these bags, but nobody can guarantee that somebody will not take some legal action, or try to challenge a particular ordinance. There are no guarantees in life like that, so…”

Council members are well within their authority to regulate businesses, he said, and they have the legal authority to regulate solid waste management, and public health and safety.

“The only concern I would have is if someone from the (Utah) Legislature decided to take that authority away from municipalities as it might pertain to this,” McAnany said. “But really, what you’re doing is regulating businesses within the community for public health and safety.”

Ordinance set to take effect in January 2019

“We may be a little bit ahead of the curve, but this is the direction we’re heading in.”