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Alaska Legislature

Statewide plastic bag ban advances in Alaska House of Representatives

JUNEAU — A statewide ban on most single-use plastic bags advanced Thursday in the Alaska House of Representatives but still faces an uphill path to becoming law.

Proposed by Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, the ban would begin Jan. 1, 2021. Though communities including Anchorage and Wasilla have approved similar bans, Josephson’s bill faces opposition.

“I think they should ban the ban on bags,” said Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, who added that she believes her city’s ban has been ineffective at reducing plastic pollution.

If approved by the Legislature and Gov. Mike Dunleavy, it would be the third such statewide ban in the United States. Nationwide, only California and New York have banned single-use bags, according to a count kept by the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Hawaii’s municipal bans are so widespread that they act as a de facto state ban.)

Twelve states have taken the opposite approach — their legislators have forbidden communities from banning plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As written, Alaska’s bag ban would exempt produce and bulk bags at grocery and hardware stores, ice bags, newspaper bags, flower bags, dog and yard waste bags, prescription-drug bags and reusable bags.

Retailers who fail to follow the bag ban could be fined.

Writing about the need for the bill, Josephson said plastic pollution has become a major issue in the world’s oceans, and because Alaska relies on the health of its fisheries, it makes sense to protect those fisheries by limiting plastic pollution.

“Our resources should not be succumbing to plastic pollution and our residents should not have to worry about their health after enjoying a subsistence harvest,” he wrote in the bill’s sponsor statement.

As originally written, the bill contained an exemption for small businesses. An amendment from Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, eliminated that exemption in committee.

The ban now goes to the House’s committee on labor and commerce issues.

Anchorage’s ban on single-use plastic shopping bags will take effect Sept. 15, and there will be a small fee on single-use paper bags in order to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags.

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