Anchorage nears vote on plastic bag ban

Anchorage officials are close to deciding whether the city should ban single-use plastic shopping bags.

The city Assembly is slated to debate a ban at its meeting at the Loussac Library Tuesday night. Elected officials have spent this month hammering out the details of an ordinance, which they say is aimed at encouraging people to bring fabric or other reusable bags from home.

The ban, which would take effect no sooner than the start of next year, is expected to have sweeping effects for both retailers and consumers. If it passes, Anchorage would join nearly 20 Alaska communities that no longer allow plastic shopping bags, including Palmer, Wasilla and a number of rural villages.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz supports a ban on all single-use plastic shopping bags, said spokeswoman Kristin DeSmith.

[Plastic…with a price: How the bag ban shakes out at Wasilla's big retailers]

Some key details have yet to be decided. Here are some of the questions the Assembly will be debating Tuesday night:

— Whether disposable plastic shopping bags would be banned entirely in Anchorage.


— Whether plastic bags will still be allowed at a certain thickness. Some communities have only banned particularly thin, single-use shopping bags, with officials saying thinner bags travel further in the wind and are more likely to end up along roads.

— How much businesses should charge if customers want paper or reusable plastic or cloth bags. The Assembly will debate alternative-bag fees ranging from 10 cents and 50 cents.

Lobbyists for a national plastics industry association have been attending Assembly work sessions to argue against the ban.

[Plastic bag war heats up in Juneau as industry hires Alaska lobbyist to fight proposed tax]

Assemblyman Christopher Constant said he's willing to support either an outright ban or allowing thick, 4-mil plastic bags.

But Assemblyman John Weddleton said he would rather allow less-thick plastic bags, at 1.25 mils, with a fee for handing them out. Weddleton owns Bosco's Comics, a comics, card and game store in Spenard that uses plastic bags for customers and for promotional materials. He guessed it would cost his business about $1,000 more each year if the measure passed and he had to switch entirely to paper products.

But if a fee indeed changes customer behavior, businesses could save in the long term, Weddleton said.

"Retailers will have some higher costs, but if people quit using bags it could be a win for us," Weddleton said.

A few weeks ago, Weddleton said, he spent two hours in front of a Carrs-Safeway grocery store on Huffman Road. He talked to several dozen shoppers to gauge opinions about a ban. He said shoppers were generally supportive, even people that had more than a dozen plastic bags in their carts.

Forrest Dunbar, the chair of the Assembly, there was a good chance the Assembly would take a vote Tuesday night after debating the bigger questions.

"(But) if it doesn't, I wouldn't take that as a sign that an ordinance won't pass," Dunbar said in a text message Tuesday. "Rather, it's that we are trying to work out some details."

Dunbar said the ban would not take effect before Jan. 1, 2019.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the thickness of plastic bags using millimeters as the unit of measurement instead of mils. A millimeter is equivalent to 39.37 mils.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.