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Anchorage

Anchorage Assembly rejects major change to law banning single-use plastic bags

Paper bags at Red Apple Markets. (Marc Lester / ADN)

Anchorage shoppers must still pay 10 cents for a paper bag if they don’t bring a reusable bag to the grocery store.

The Anchorage Assembly was faced with nixing the replacement-bag fee Tuesday night after Eagle River/Chugiak member Crystal Kennedy proposed several changes to the city’s new plastic bag ban. She also wanted to allow plastic bags at least 4 millimeters thick and change the definition of a reusable bag.

Instead, the Assembly passed a version of Kennedy’s proposal that included an amendment by member Chris Constant. Constant’s version kept the 10-cent fee and got rid of the thickness change. It kept Kennedy’s revamped definition of what a reusable bag is.

Several members talked about how constituents were confused about what type of bag they could bring to the grocery store.

The amended version was passed unanimously.

The 10-cent fee -- and maximum of 50 cents per transaction -- was included in the plastic bag ban that went into effect Sept. 15. The idea is to discourage people from using any single-use bag at all, instead opting for bags designed for long-term use.

About a month ago, the Assembly amended the ban to exempt restaurants from having to charge for a paper bag.

At one point, Assembly members debated an amendment of Constant’s amendment of Kennedy’s proposal. It would have amended the ordinance banning retailers from giving out single-use plastic bags. It was a Russian nesting doll of municipal policy imposition.

In the end, the only change was to define reusable bags as “designed and manufactured to withstand repeated use over time and is made from material that is machine washable or that can be cleaned and disinfected regularly.”

Public testimony supported the Assembly’s decision. Seventeen people testified prior to the vote, with only one speaking in direct support of getting rid of the 10-cent fee. A couple others told the Assembly that the bag ban was an overall insignificant response to a bigger problem.

Many said they’ve seen the fee work -- shoppers walk out to the parking lot with arms full of groceries when they forget reusable bags.

Several speakers targeted Kennedy directly. At a recent work session, Kennedy argued that the ban had already changed people’s behavior. One woman sarcastically told Kennedy that she appreciates her optimism that six weeks is sufficient time to change ingrained behavior.

Jill Dean, owner of a small local store, said she has never offered single-use plastic bags. In the past, most customers would take a paper bag when asked. She noticed a quick change when customers were told they had to pay 10 cents for it.

“Now they say, ‘No that’s OK, I don’t need a bag,'" Dean said.

Constant, in response to Kennedy’s work session comments, quoted U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying getting rid of the 10-cent penalty "is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

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