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How Anchorage’s plastic bag ban will affect the way you shop

  • Author: Devin Kelly
  • Updated: August 30
  • Published August 29

Anchorage this week became the latest city to ban disposable plastic shopping bags. The ban, approved by the city Assembly on Tuesday night, takes effect in March 2019.

Here's a few things to know about the ban. Read the law itself here.

I'm an Anchorage shopper. What's the ban mean for me? 

The ban means that after March 1, retail and commercial businesses in Anchorage — including grocery stores, restaurants and convenience stores — will no longer be allowed to give out free plastic or paper bags to carry out purchases.

In fact, stores will be generally barred from handing out any kind of disposable, single-use plastic bag to customers, though there are a number of exceptions.

You'll still be able to get paper bags at the checkout line to carry out your groceries — for a fee. Paper bags will cost 10 cents per bag. The maximum fee per transaction will be 50 cents.

Isn't this a more extreme version of what was previously discussed?

In recent weeks, the Anchorage Assembly seemed to be leaning toward a less-stringent ban, allowing stores to hand out thicker plastic bags for a fee. But on Tuesday night, Assemblyman Christopher Constant prevailed in an effort to ban plastic shopping bags entirely — though it was a close vote, 6-5.

Biodegradable or compostable plastic bags may someday be allowed at stores, but not yet, the Assembly also decided Tuesday night.

Where can I get a reusable bag? Will those be handed out?

Under the new law, a "reusable bag" is made from cloth, machine-washable fabric or other woven material — which can include plastic — that can be cleaned and disinfected regularly. Reusable bags are supposed to have handles.

Reusable bags are already sold at a number of stores around Anchorage. Under the bag ban law, retailers will be allowed to provide reusable bags to shoppers for free.

Are there exceptions to the ban? How will I carry out my meat or vegetables?

There are a number of exceptions, including plastic bags used for:

• Carrying meat, bulk grains, fruit, nuts, vegetables, candy, bakery goods, prepared foods, other food products and or small hardware items

• Trash, including dog waste and yard waste

• Frozen food, meat or fish that may leak

• Ice

• Wrapping flowers or potted plants

• Wrapping up prescription drugs at the pharmacy

• Packaging a partially-consumed bottle of wine

• Wrapping newspapers

• Laundry or dry-cleaning

• Marijuana business products

I reuse the disposable plastic shopping bags around my house and to pick up after my dog. Could I still buy them at stores after March 1?

One major retailer, Fred Meyer, has not stocked single-use plastic grocery bags in areas with plastic bag bans, said spokesman Jeffrey Temple. But Temple said the business has continued to sell trash bags and trash can liners, which are allowed under Anchorage's new law.

Gene Kubina checks out at Fred Meyer at in Anchorage on Wednesday. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

Temple also said the store currently sells reusable bags and will continue to do so. Just last week, Kroger, Fred Meyer's parent company, announced plans to entirely phase out disposable plastic bags at all of its stores in the next several years in favor of reusable bags.

Some stores don't allow people to bring in their own bags because they're worried about shoplifting. What do I do then?

Assemblyman Christoper Constant, who co-sponsored the ban, said retailers with those policies can ask customers to store the bags while they shop.

How does Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz feel about the ban?

In an interview Tuesday night, Berkowitz said he supported the all-out ban on plastic shopping bags.

"The more we can do to keep Anchorage clean, reduce use of the landfill and act as leaders, the better off we are," Berkowitz said.

He added that he had personally pulled bags out of trees while on ride-alongs with city crews: "Those bags are everywhere."

How do bans in other parts of Alaska compare? 

Plastic bag bans have become increasingly popular in Alaska and in the Lower 48. In 2014, California adopted a state-wide ban.

A plastic bag ban took effect in Wasilla about two months ago. Officials and residents were expressing similar concerns about litter.

Unlike the new Anchorage ban, Wasilla still allows stores to hand out thicker plastic bags for a fee.

Palmer also adopted a ban, which takes effect Jan. 1. The city decided to allow thick plastic bags — but at a higher thickness than Wasilla, one that many retailers say is cost-prohibitive.

Villages in Western Alaska have also adopted plastic bag bans, some dating back decades.

A ban took effect in the tiny village of St. Mary's on Jan. 1, 2000. The measure simply banned "plastic bags," noting that more than 90 percent of blown trash in the area around the landfill consisted of plastic grocery bags and deli bags from local stores, according to the original ordinance.

Hooper Bay adopted a ban in 2009, and Bethel followed suit the same year after an earlier effort failed. Alaska Commercial Co. does, however, provide thin, single-use biodegradable bags for customers in the region.

How did Anchorage's elected officials approach the ban?

Constant and Assemblyman Dick Traini spearheaded the ban at the Assembly level in early July. The Assembly debated the topic over a series of public meetings in July and August.

While much of the initial debate centered on allowing bags of a certain thickness, like in Wasilla and Palmer, Constant recently introduced a provision to ban all disposable plastic shopping bags, regardless of thickness.

The Assembly overwhelmingly approved the overall ban. Members expressed deep concern over plastic bags littering trees, streams and scenic byways.

But Assembly members were divided on whether to ban all bags. Constant pushed for an outright ban, but others, like Assemblyman John Weddleton, said it was only thinner bags that were the problem. Weddleton, Suzanne LaFrance and Eric Croft voted against Constant's stricter amendment but still ended up supporting the overall ban at the end of the night.

Why is there a five-month delay before Anchorage's law takes effect?

Assembly members said they wanted to give retailers time to use up existing supplies of plastic bags.

What happens to the money from the bag fees?

Stores can keep it or donate it to a nonprofit.

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