Imagine your once-weekly and often dreaded trip to Wal-Mart. You’ve pushed a squeaking cart with one cocked wheel a felt half-mile around the store, gone back to the produce section twice, and after waiting in line for what seems like 45 minutes, you’ve finally reached the checkout.
Your cart is full and you’re almost done, but as the cashier begins to bag your first few items, she stops. Did you remember to bring your own bags with you? It seems not. Now Rhonda on checkout lane two is throwing all your single items back into the basket after she scans them.
Sound far-fetched? It may not be too far from the truth for much longer. As plastic shopping bags continue to be a pollutant to the countryside and the Concho, a movement is afoot to put a limit on the littering.
Christy Youker, along with several other residents, has formed a task force to bring a single-use plastic bag ban to San Angelo.
“There are lots of options and there is no one-size-fits-all,” Youker said of how San Angelo could implement the initiative.
Other cities throughout Texas have passed ordinances to decrease the amount of plastic shopping bags being used. Each ordinance varies from city to city.
“We need to take our time so we can develop our own model for San Angelo,” Youker said.
The group wants to meet with city officials and have public forums in order to better understand the needs and concerns of the people in San Angelo.
“We don’t want to go and do the same thing as other cities. Our city is different and we need to take that into account,” Youker said
She said the ordinance in San Angelo would have exemptions. Plastic bags would be available in grocery stores for meats and produce as well as in restaurants and food services.
In October of 2012, a petition was circulated. Since then, Youker says that about 500 residents have signed it.
The group wants to do a feasibility study to see just how many residents of San Angelo support a plastic bag ban.
“We want it to be a decision by the people of San Angelo,” Youker said.
The group plans on looking at models from other cities in order to develop their own for San Angelo.
Dr. Christine Muelsch, a San Angelo resident from Germany said, “There are surely enough other things that cause more damage to the environment than plastic bags.”
In Germany, if the customer does not bring their own packaging, supermarkets will charge 10-20 cents per bag.
Muelsch said, “Aldi (a German discounter like Family Dollar with groceries) offers empty boxes for packaging. Aldi justifies not offering shopping bags with their low prices. Perhaps Wal-Mart can offer price cuts and expect shoppers to bring their own bags.”
She said, “I don’t find the German solution ideal either because it unloads the costs solely on the individual consumers.”
Lynn Shipley, the unit director at H-E-B, said that the littering of plastic bags could better be resolved through education rather than by eliminating the bags all together.
“We are forcing the customers to choose what form of bag to use and it is not being provided by the business, that becomes an inconvenience,” Shipley said of how an ordinance would affect customers at H-E-B.
He said by increasing the education of recycling plastic bags, less littering would take place as well as less bags being found in the landfill.
Shipley said, “We need to give it a fair effort to try to conserve and recycle and really educate our community and have pride in the beauty of San Angelo.”
The task force agrees that education is pivotal to making a change, and as such is included as the primary component of their plan.
The greatest challenge they face in banning single-use plastic bags is people feeling that the government is taking over another aspect of their life.
Youker said the focus is not political but rather about “making this community more beautiful and encouraging people to pick up trash; to keep it off the ground, and not let those plastic bags flow.”
However, not everyone sees it that way.
Earlier this year Odessa tried to pass a similar ordinance, but locals did not let it get too far. Many of them felt their rights would be trampled upon if they were not allowed to have a choice on the packaging of their groceries.
Another issue at hand is whether reusable bags can be considered more sanitary.
According to a report by Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright of the University of Texas,“ reusable grocery bags harbor harmful bacteria, the most important of which is E. coli.”
Klick and Wright studied the effects of plastic bag bans in California. In their study they found that ER admissions increased by at least one fourth relative to California counties that did not enforce a ban.
They stated, “Subsequent bans in other California municipalities resulted in similar increases. An examination of deaths related to intestinal infections shows a comparable increase.”
What do you think is the best way to keep San Angelo beautiful? Do we need a city ordinance or is education enough?