The bloodless but brutal Plastic Bag War of 2013-14 has finally come to a close. The final battle, waged primarily through hyperbole and terrible metaphor, came today with the Dallas City Council ultimately voting 8-6 to impose a fee on single-use carryout bags at most retail stores.
Under the ordinance, retailers will be able to keep giving out single-use plastic and paper bags, but they have to register with the city and charge customers a nickel for each bag. They will get to keep 10 percent of the fee, rather than the 50 percent originally proposed, to offset the cost of the program.
So, is this an unreasonable encroachment on private business? A capitulation to deep-pocketed retailers who fought like hell to avoid a ban? A shining example of compromise? A failure of leadership on the part of the City Council? City staff? The general public?
Depending on which council member you listened to, it was all of those things.
"The enemy is us," said Councilman Rick Callahan who, along with Sheffie Kadane, dismissed any attempt at banning plastic bags as anti-business. "We the people. There's no accountability. There's no responsibility at all."
Or, as Far North Dallas representative Lee Kleinman suggested, maybe it's the people in certain council districts (he referenced the area Southwest Center Mall), since plastic-bag litter isn't a problem in his. Perhaps city staff missed a "great opportunity ... to lead the council just like you lead a cow to a desired result," as Jerry Allen suggested.
On the other side was Sandy Greyson, who praised council's willingness to compromise. "That is highly unusual around this building on a highly contentious issue," she said. Scott Griggs called the litter "a large elephant that we have to take on as a council as a city, one bite at a time."
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The city plans to roll out the plastic-bag fee with a $250,000 public-education campaign, paid for from existing city funds. It will take effect on January 1, 2015. It's possible the city will get sued.
None of the council members was completely satisfied with the final outcome, but, as the vote suggests, a majority consider plastic-bag litter an issue that needs to be addressed directly by the council. It's easier and more cost effective to keep them from being put into circulation than to clean them up after the fact.
"Who's going to climb the tree who's going to climb the barbed wire fence to take the bag off the barbed wire fence?" Caraway wondered. "If indeed we leave that bag that is not biodegradeable and flying in that tree, what's going to happen when his cousin shows up? And the next bag? And the next?"
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.