It's entirely possible that the Dallas City Council will show up on Wednesday, argue for an hour or two, then decide that it's not quite ready to vote on banning plastic and other single-use carryout bags, Dwaine Caraway's March-vote-or-bust pledge be damned. But, thanks to a draft of the ordinance posted Friday night, we now have a better idea of what the council will be voting on.
There are still technically several options on the table, including an outright ban and a "responsible retailer" proposal, but the one on Wednesday's agenda is fee-based.
A quick look at the proposed rule:
So, what bags will be banned?: In reality, none of them. Retailers who want to continue supplying "single-use carryout bags" can register with the city and charge customers an "environmental fee" of either $.10 per bag or $1 per transaction. The retailer is allowed to keep half of what it collects but can only use the fee to offset the cost of complying with the ordinance, offering $.05 rebates for reusable bags, and creating city-approved public education campaign to "inform customers on the importance of environmental stewardship."
The restrictions apply to all "single-use carryout bags," which the ordinance helpfully defines as "a carryout bag that is not a reusable carryout bag" -- basically plastic and paper grocery sacks.
What bags are OK?: Reusable carryout bags -- cloth, plastic or paper -- which can successfully carry 16 pounds for 100 reuses (i.e. the "minimum reuse testing standard"). Specifically exempted from the rule are: laundry bags; newspaper bags; packages of garbage, yard waste and pet waste bags; bags used by nonprofits and charities to collect food and clothing; recyclable paper bags used by pharmacies, vets and carryout restaurants; and plastic sacks "used by restaurants to take away prepared food only where necessary to prevent moisture damage, such as for soups, sauces, salads with dressing and liquids."
Why?: The short answer is that, much like sagging pants, Dwaine Caraway doesn't like plastic bags. The longer answer is that plastic bags are a significant contributor to litter, they clog streams and get caught on fences and trees, and basically never decompose. Paper grocery bags take a lot of energy to produce, which is presumably why they are included.
What happens if Kroger or Tom Thumb keeps giving out free plastic bags?: Assuming the ordinance passes as written and is actually enforced, City Hall hits them with a $500 fine for each occurrence.
Will it pass?: A handful of council members -- most prominently Sheffie Kadane and Rick Callahan -- have in the past argued against regulations as anti-business, but Caraway says he has the votes for passage.
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Is it a good ordinance?: Activists on both sides of the issue say no. Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment describes it as "a giveaway, a payday, for retailers. They will earn millions of dollars (by keeping half of the disposable-bag fee), but they will still publicly oppose the ordinance and then blame the city when their customers complain to them." Worse, Trahan says, the fee will incentivize them to keep giving customers as many bags as they can.
Lee Califf, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, told The Dallas Morning News the proposed rule was "draconian" and "would be terrible for consumers, small businesses and the environment alike."
Perhaps this means the city is striking the proper balance. Or perhaps the proposed ordinance is just terrible.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.