Posted on February 7, 2013 at 7:02 PM
AUSTIN -- In just three weeks the City of Austin will begin enforcing a bag ban at stores.
On March 1, retailers must get rid of single-use paper and plastic bags at their checkout counters. A final push is underway now to make sure everyone knows what to expect.
Most will have to get rid of the bags altogether, but there are a few exceptions including produce bags and dry cleaning bags.
At home you can use plastic bags for laundry and newspapers, and buy bags used for trash and pet waste when the bags are packaged in bulk.
Restaurants and stores can use plastic for carry-out meals which include liquids, or use bags to package bulk items, frozen foods, produce and raw meats.
Non-profits in Austin will be allowed to use the single-use bags to distribute food donations.
Single-use paper bags are going away as well, unless they're made up of at least 80 percent recycled material.
Most shoppers are encouraged to bring their own reusable bags for shopping. Those include cloth bags or thicker plastic bags that are designed for multiple uses.
On Thursday the Austin Resource Recovery team hosted two final informational meetings for retailers.
Business owners learned the details of the ordinance and their responsibilities. There were also reusable bag vendors on hand to talk about the transition. Roxanne Vauhgan Is the director of sales for the California-based company Roplast Industries, Inc. She's seen several cities across the country make the transition.
"The consensus I get here, as opposed to some cities, is that everyone is really invested in reducing waste here. And so once they choose an option that works within their budget, I do think that the city's going to adapt to this very well," observed Vaughan.
Implementing the ban will take time and money. The city is spending $850,000 on education and outreach, including handing out free bags, making sure shoppers are ready. Most businesses will have to purchase new reusable bags.
"I actually think it's going to be a blessing for our store because of the expenses. We will save because our plastic bags are costly because of the logo and having to have them shipped in. So we'll be saving, and we can pass that savings on to our customers," said Kathy Williams who manages the Family Christian Store in the Tech Ridge Shopping Center.
Grocery store chain HEB is also planning to pass savings along to customers. On Feb. 16 and 23rd, customers will get free reusable bags, as well as on the first few days of March. The store will also sell bags ranging in price from 25 cents to $5. If you forget your bag and don't want to buy a new one, you can pay $1 for single use bags and that money will then be used top buy bags for "Free bag Fridays" at HEB.
"I do think that in the long run, it is going to help because it is something that's troubling, you know, with all the waste and so forth," added Williams.
As for the short term, Williams admits it will be a challenge; not only for the store, but also for customers. Felicia Johnson, who shops at Family Christian Store, didn't even know about the ban.
"I will personally buy some of those bags," said Williams. "Now if I remember to bring them in the store, that's another story."
There's a solution for shopper forgetfulness in the ordinance. In addition to ditching the most commonly used plastic bags, businesses are also required to post signs in the parking lot, near the door and inside stores.
Disobeying the ordinance could land a business a fine of up to $2,000, but City officials say they would rather work with businesses to bring them into compliance.
For more information on the single-use bag ban, click here.