City Hall

Single-Use Plastic Bags Will Be Free Again Monday

At what Dwaine Caraway said would be his last City Council meeting, the term-limited council member put on a vintage performance, fighting against what's become the bane of his existence: single-use plastic bags. He lost. Single-use plastic bags will be free again on Monday, but he lost fighting the good fight.

Caraway was instrumental in the compromise the council passed in 2014. Single-use plastic bags would not be banned outright, as he wanted, but they would be subject to a nickel fee, 90 percent of which would go to the city. The fee went into effect January 1.

In May, a group of bag manufacturers sued the city, citing then-Attorney General Greg Abbott's 2014 opinion that plastic bag fees were probably illegal. In the suit's aftermath, dueling memos were sent to the mayor by two, five-council member cohorts. One asked that the fee be converted to an outright ban on the bags, imitating the policy in Austin and other cities, the other called simply for the fees repeal.

"You can either be the biggest city to take action on this or the first city in Texas to take the state backwards," Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment said.

After Trahan and the other open-microphone speakers — including a "plastic bag monster" that Mayor Mike Rawlings said looked like something out of Game of Thrones — it was Caraway's turn to take center stage one more time.

Aided by a prop fence and tree that he entangled plastic bags in, Caraway decried the bags for flying everywhere and ruining the landscape of southern Dallas.

"We will eventually be known as the world class city of plastic bags if we fail to take action today," he said.

Council members Rick Callahan and Jerry Allen, with help from Rawlings, made the case that fixing Dallas trash problem requires personal responsibility from residents and market forces, rather than regulations.

"We're not going to ban fried chicken boxes and stuff," Allen said, in explaining that there would be trash with or without the bags.

Rawlings said the core issue was the role of government in people's lives, then voted with the winning side in a 9-6 decision not to ban the bags. Scott Griggs, Adam Medrano, Carolyn Davis, Lee Kleinman and Philip Kingston voted with Caraway.

"What you all are doing here today, this is wrong. I made a lot of mistakes and one of those mistakes was not to voice up even more," Caraway said. "This is about money."

Caraway then stressed his plans to write a book about this City Council and told Rawlings he wished he'd run against the mayor when he'd had the chance.

"This vote today tells you that they don't care," Caraway said, before breaking out his impression of council member Vonciel Jones Hill explaining why she doesn't want to ban the bags.

Hill informed Caraway that her voice was a gift from God and that she resented his implication that her vote against the ban was meant to please her campaign contributors.

"What you get when you contribute to my campaign is good government," she said.

Still needing to do something to fix an ordinance that is, as Abbott said, probably illegal, the council then voted 10-4 to ditch the fee, with Medrano switching sides because, he said, he didn't believe the city could win the lawsuit.