After fielding complaints from businesses, the Anchorage Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday night to push back the effective date of a new city ban on plastic shopping bags.
Instead of March 1, 2019, the ban will now take effect on Sept. 15, 2019. All plastic shopping bags will be banned at that point, according to the ordinance. Paper and alternative bags will carry a 10 cent fee, up to 50 cents per transaction.
Assemblyman Christopher Constant, who spearheaded the original ordinance, said it was a fair compromise for businesses with warehouses filled with pre-ordered bags.
“Why make them literally send money to the landfill?” Constant said.
The slowdown of the ban comes as a petition circulates to ask voters to repeal the ban in April. Backers are trying to collect about 2,000 more signatures by the end of January, said David Nees, one of the sponsors of the petition. Nees says Anchorage residents should get a chance to vote on the ban.
Supporters of the ban say the goal is to encourage shoppers to bring their own bags to stores and reduce the number of plastic bags littering the city and piling up in the landfill. One advocate, Sophie Tidler, told the Assembly Tuesday night she was disappointed in the delay.
But Tidler said the city should spend the extra time educating retailers about the ban and alternatives to plastic bags.
When the Assembly first approved the ban in late August, some retailers were taken aback by how stringent it was. Other communities, such as Wasilla and Palmer, only banned thinner bags commonly used in supermarkets, with Palmer’s ban taking effect Jan. 1.
Anchorage retailers that cater to tourists, in particular, said they order plastic bags in bulk to contend with Alaska’s high shipping prices and didn’t think six months was enough time to use up their supplies Jay Green, the owner of Polar Bear Gifts in downtown Anchorage, told the Anchorage Daily News in September that his warehouse contained more than $30,000 worth of thick yellow plastic bags imprinted with his store’s logo.
Assemblyman John Weddleton tried unsuccessfully to delay the ban until March 2020 for thicker plastic bags, but Constant and other Assembly members said they were worried about creating confusion.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of a ban, a number of community groups and businesses have been working to supply reusable bags to shoppers. On Black Friday, GCI advertised its efforts to hand out reusable shopping bags to shoppers at the Dimond Center.
One volunteer group, Boomerang Bags, has been holding regular “sewing bees” where volunteers make tote bags out of donated or recycled materials to hand out at public events next year.
Courtney Munson, who coordinates Boomerang Bags, said her group plans to move forward with its efforts regardless of when or if a ban takes effect.
“The most important thing is a behavior change,” Munson said. “We can start talking to people, giving away bags, and providing people with an alternative -- and we can do that anytime.”