City Hall

Dallas' Bag Ban Is Stupid Because It Doesn't Ban Bags

I'm just going to pay the nickel. That's what I realized, staring at a 7-Eleven sign on New Year's Eve warning of the coming enforcement of City Council member Dwaine Caraway's baby, the city's carryout bag ordinance. I'm going to pay the nickel, because remembering reusable bags is hard and I often, weirdly enough, reuse the bags the ordinance classifies as single-use -- whether it's to bring my lunch to work or pick up after my parents' dog when I dog-sit. On my biggest shopping trip, the bags will cost me maybe 60 cents. Whatever.

That attitude is why Caraway's ban isn't going to do what it was intended to do. Sure, it may result in fewer American Beauty moments for Dallasites and some of us will surely buy some reusables that we'll never use, but it fails to take simple steps that would've gone far further toward eradicating the blight of skittering plastic grocery bags that so disturbs Caraway.

Basically, Dallas should have just copied Austin's ordinance, verbatim, instead of taking a half-measure that's just going to end up in a buncha nickels being chopped up between retailers and the city.

Under Austin's ordinance, stores simply can't provide one-time use bags. Any plastic bags provided must be four millimeters thick and paper bags must have handles and meet a recycled content threshold. Both of these provisions are part of the Dallas ordinance too, but you can still get the bags Caraway was bound and determined to get rid of -- the thin plastic ones -- for a nominal fee.

Making matters worse is the city's inability, or simple refusal, to explain its own ordinance. As The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday some retailers still don't understand how the "ban" applies to them. Central Market representatives told the paper that its bags met the reusable standard as far as they knew, despite one of those standards being that a bag must be able to carry 16 pounds of material at least 100 times. While Central Market's bags are sturdier than, say, Tom Thumb's, it seems unlike they could meet that requirement.

As it stands, the ordinance that began enforcement Thursday is a typical Dallas mess. Poorly thought out, rife with unintended consequence and, at its core, obnoxious.

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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young