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Plastic Bag Fees in MN Cities Underscore National Movement

At least 471 U.S. cities have adopted some form of plastic bag ordinance. (pcullum/Morguefile)
At least 471 U.S. cities have adopted some form of plastic bag ordinance. (pcullum/Morguefile)
December 27, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Minneapolis and Duluth recently entered the fray of U.S. cities either imposing plastic bag fees, or adopting outright bans. One expert who tracks these policies says they could lead to more statewide laws.

The two Minnesota ordinances were adopted as fees, because the state Legislature had already enacted a preemption law prohibiting plastic bag bans. Jennie Romer, founder of 'PlasticBagLaws.org,' says despite roadblocks at the state level, cities will work around them.

She points to Colorado as an example.

"The Denver City Council just went forward with a 10 cents fee on all bags as well, in order to get around that preemption on bans," says Romer. "So, they ended up with what we consider a very good policy by trying to get around preemption."

Romer says Denver's ordinance will be effective because it's a higher fee and applies to both plastic and paper bags, which should prompt customers to switch to reusable bags.

She says the Minneapolis 5 cent fee has some teeth because it applies to both plastic and paper, while the Duluth ordinance covers only plastic bags. She points out that limited fees aren't as effective in changing consumer behavior.

Meanwhile, retailers are feeling pressure to stop using plastic bags. A recent petition drive called on Minneapolis-based Target to ditch them.

It's unclear what will happen with Target, but Romer says retailers are mindful of customer concerns about the impact plastics have on the environment.

"Not only with bags, but some retailers have come out with commitments to make all of their packaging recyclable by a certain period," says Romer, "or contain a certain amount of recycled content."

However, there's still pushback at the retail level. The Minnesota Grocers Association voiced concern about the disadvantages fees could create for supermarkets.

The group says customers should have a choice at the checkout lane, and retailers can provide more education about sustainable options.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN