Public weighs in, but no action yet on plastic bag ban in Anchorage

A proposed Anchorage ban on thin, single-use plastic shopping bags generated mostly positive public testimony, along with some opposition, at an Anchorage Assembly meeting Tuesday night.

But the Assembly won't make a decision on a ban for at least another two weeks. When the meeting adjourned at 11:15 p.m., the Assembly had just begun to weigh banning all plastic shopping bags, as opposed to a ban on plastic shopping bags of a certain thickness that are handed out with a fee.

Sponsors of the measure say the goal is to encourage people to bring their own bags from home and reduce littering.

Most of the roughly 20 people who testified about the proposed ban said they were concerned about the effects of plastic on the environment. Some wore stickers that read "Plastic Free Anchorage," representing a group that is seeking to reduce overall plastic use in the city.

Stephanie Thornton of Eagle River came to the meeting with her young daughter. She told the Assembly they picked up more plastic bags every spring, and had spotted them high up in trees.

Grace Johnston, who lives in Rabbit Creek, described a poll she conducted on that asked opinions on a plastic bag ban or tax. About 200 people took it, and close to three-quarters supported a ban not only supported a ban on plastic bags but also on single-use plastic straws and coffee cup lids, Johnston said.

"Change is very hard and this will be a difficult change for many people, but I believe it's a necessary change," Karen Dahl, a Midtown resident, told the Assembly.


In Wasilla, the thin, single-use plastic bags have been outlawed since July 1. Some major retailers, like Target and Walmart, are still putting purchases in plastic bags, though the bags are now required to be more substantial. It's free for now at Target; Walmart is charging a 10 cent fee.

[Plastic…for a price: How the bag ban shakes out in Wasilla]

Carol Montgomery, of the Mat-Su Zero Waste Coalition, told the Assembly on Tuesday night the ban went smoothly. Many other large retailers have switched entirely to paper bags, Montgomery said.

A similar ban in Palmer takes effect Jan. 1, 2019.

Not everyone was a fan of the proposed ban or that the Assembly was spending time on it.

Tom McGrath of Spenard said Anchorage residents would bear the cost of the ban. He questioned where the regulation would stop, noting that plastic bags are only one type of plastics being distributed to customers.

Rose Chamberlain of Fairview said that she asked a dozen people at the supermarket if they knew the Assembly was debating a plastic bag ban Tuesday night. All of them said no, she said.

She suggested that residents were more worried about crime than plastic shopping bags.

Jeremy Price, state director for the Alaska branch of Americans for Prosperity, said he opposed any legislation that would regulate the way people carried groceries.

The Assembly is expected to meet one more time to hash out details of a proposed ban before its next meeting Aug. 28.

On Tuesday night, Assemblyman Christopher Constant proposed an outright ban on all single-use plastic shopping bags, regardless of the thickness. Other Assembly members were leaning toward a measure that allows plastic bags of a certain thickness, while requiring a fee for reusable or paper bags.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.