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Business/Economy

Palmer bans disposable plastic shopping bags

A plastic bag is caught along South Alaska Street in Palmer in August 2017. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

PALMER — Following in the footsteps of the retail mecca to the north, Palmer is banning disposable plastic shopping bags.

The city of about 7,000 founded in the 1930s as a New Deal farm colony is Alaska's latest to outlaw the bag — and the second in the Valley.

Wasilla, home to most of Mat-Su's big-box retailers, banned bags as of July 1 in a January vote. City officials said they heard little opposition in a series of public forums.

Palmer's proposal got little official pushback as well, passing in a 4-1 vote at Palmer City Council on Tuesday night. The ban was introduced by Sabrena Combs and Pete LaFrance and passed after just one public hearing, though the council several months ago publicly discussed the direction the city wanted to go, Palmer City Manager Nate Wallace said.

"Overwhelming support from the community members and businesses. Starting Jan. 1, 2019, our windy little town will start to get cleaner and cleaner!" Combs posted on her Facebook page after the vote.

Steve Carrington, the lone "no" vote, wanted voters to decide the ban.

The ban applies not only to grocery and retail stores but restaurants, too. It doesn't apply to plastic bags used inside the store for produce or to keep leaky containers from oozing all over other groceries.

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1. Businesses caught violating the new law face a warning on first offense, a $100 fine the second and a $300 fine the third.

The bags are already outlawed in the cities of Bethel and Cordova, though the Alaska Commercial Co. has been supplying single-use biodegradable bags to customers there.

Anchorage doesn't have a ban. The Fairbanks North Star Borough also doesn't and isn't considering one anytime soon, officials there say.

Plastic bags aren't on the radar in the city and borough of Juneau either, where voters in 2011 defeated a proposed 15-cent bag tax.

"Everybody hates plastic bags blowing down the streets or when they get high up in trees, but the assembly's not talking about it and I'm not hearing anything from the community," Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said Wednesday.

Mat-Su Borough officials in January — just days after Wasilla's decision — killed a 10-cent bag tax proposed for large retailers.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, was proposing a statewide 20-cent tax on disposable plastic bags to be paid by customers, not retailers. It never passed the House.

The bags are notorious sources of litter, fouling waterways and threatening fish and wildlife, ban supporters say.

But bans can bring unexpected downsides, a 2011 British environmental agency study showed. Paper bags need to be reused four or more times to reduce the "global warming potential" to a level below that of conventional plastic bags because of the environmental cost of logging and paper production, the study found. Paper bags aren't as easy to reuse as plastic, however: Consumers tend to buy more heavy plastic trash bags if grocery bags aren't available.

The Mat-Su Zero Waste Coalition, which supports the ban, is also hoping the larger borough adopts restrictions. Generally, the group doesn't favor paper or plastic bags, member Suzanne Hayes said.

"We advocate that people bring reusable bags when shopping rather than rely on stores to provide a single-use container, be it paper or plastic," Hayes wrote in an email.

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