Originally Published: June 10, 2018 6:05 a.m.
A reader recently wrote in to the Courier asking about a ban on plastic shopping bags: “Clean up on Glassford Hill Road!” It seems that vacant land in the area is full of wind-blown plastic bags, again. “We had this same issue last spring. Who’s responsible for cleanup?”
Well, you are … I am … we all are.
This is about all of the lazy people who leave shopping carts willy-nilly in the parking lots of shopping centers and grocery stores, and empty their purchases from the bags and place their goods into coolers or whatever. One result, other than dents in my truck from those carts, is trash.
Seriously. You are either setting these bags free, watching it happen, or not policing them yourself (you are allowed to pick up a stray bag, even if it was not your own).
But that does not get to the problem — the cause. Plastic bags are rooted in politics, it seems.
State lawmakers passed a bill in 2016 restricting Arizona cities from banning plastic grocery bags. Legislators approved a similar bill the prior year but opted to approve the ban again after the 2015 measure faced a legal challenge. House Bill 2131 restricts Arizona municipalities from imposing prohibitions and restrictions on plastic grocery bags. Retailers, grocery stores and other business interests pushed the measure after the City of Tempe looked to restrict the use of plastic grocery bags.
The statewide measure, in 2017, drew the ire of state Attorney General Mark Brnovich — directed at Bisbee, which in 2012 banned the pesky little carrying tools. The state ban — prohibiting cities and other localities from regulating the use of plastic bags, Styrofoam and other containers — clearly shows Bisbee’s mandate violates the law, he said.
Bisbee leaders said they enacted the ordinance to prevent littering because plastic bags were a nuisance for the southern Arizona city.
Brnovich said that while he’s “very sympathetic” to the city’s goal, state law is clear on the matter. He said Bisbee businesses that support the city’s effort to reduce litter can voluntarily not use plastic bags. “We thought this one was pretty straightforward,” he said at the time. “The law is what it is.”
Numerous big cities and some states, including in California, have restrictions on plastic grocery bags. Arizona is not among them.
As a result of the law and the AG’s interpretation, Bisbee in late 2017 rescinded its ban on plastic bags. Bisbee Mayor David Smith told a Phoenix newspaper that state lawmakers who complain about an overbearing federal government are “hypocritical.”
“Quite honestly, it’s arrogant,” he said. “You just can’t drive down the street without seeing the benefits of what we’ve done here. We don’t have litter and trash all over the roadways, which we did have before.”
Another issue is that the bags are produced with petroleum, and cities often cannot recycle the bags.
What wisdom, then, do the several major cities around the country — such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle — have when enacting bans on plastic shopping bags?
I am not sure, unless they are bastions of “save the earth” thought. I figured it’s just the right thing to do; however, these really could be partisan political moves.
Regardless, here’s a thought: want a plastic bag at checkout? You pay a fee of, say, 10 cents per bag; otherwise, bring your own. (Not gonna happen either.)
In the meantime, this ranks up there as legislating common sense. As long as slobs live and shop in our communities this will be a problem.
Tim Wiederaenders is the senior news editor for The Daily Courier and Prescott Newspapers, Inc. Follow him on Twitter @TWieds_editor. Reach him at 928-445-3333, ext. 2032, or firstname.lastname@example.org.