Dallas is a Long, Long Way From Making Up Its Mind on a Plastic Bag Ban

Categories: City Hall

DallasLitterMontage.jpg
City of Dallas
A young boy buys a bag of potato chips. He's barely out of the local bodega when he takes his first bite, thoughtlessly tossing aside the plastic bag it came in. Meanwhile, in an alleyway nearby, two more of the polyethylene sacks dislodge themselves as a garbage truck empties the contents of a gray bin. The bags are caught by a breeze, eventually snagged by a tree branch or chain-link fence.

Such is the stuff of City Councilman Dwaine Caraway's nightmares. He described some of those today in emotional testimony in favor of the plastic bag ban that has become his pet issue.

"If we sit here and do nothing, it is going to mount and mount and mount," he said. "We cannot wait. Either we deal with it today or we let this pile on for five years and let this pile on and, at the end of the day, guess who's going to pay: the taxpayers. Because it will have to be cleaned up."

Caraway has made similar speeches before, but this time, he had a bit more data. City staff has spent the summer investigating possible options for dealing with single-use plastic (and paper) bags, which it detailed in a lengthy report.

dwainecarawayreusablebags.jpg
Watch out, grocery stores. Dwaine Caraway is coming.
There's a lot in the report to unpack, but there are a few things that jump out. One is the sheer number of plastic bags that Dallas retailers hand out every year. There was no exact figure, but Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan, extrapolating from Kroger's 62-million-bag-per-year tally, puts the total in the hundreds of millions, an estimated 5 percent of which become litter. Another is the magnitude of the litter problem as a whole -- plastic bags make up just 0.6 percent of the total. Every year, the city spends $4 million on litter cleanup and education campaigns. Finally, city staff is of the opinion that bag bans passed in Austin, California and elsewhere have been quite effective.

The opinion of the City Council isn't nearly so unified. A couple of members, namely Adam Medrano and Philip Kingston, kept their remarks rather brief and gave little indication of whether they were in favor of an outright ban, some sort of fee, a yearlong litter study or none of the above.

Most of their colleagues, on the other hand, were more direct and made it excruciatingly clear that the plastic bag debate in Dallas is very far from over. Here's a quick sampling of their opinions:

Caraway:
"This is like being in jail. I've never been to jail so don't get excited. I reference the jail part because you have a lot of criminals in jail, and through the pictures that we just saw -- we saws cups, bottles, bags -- the same as you have criminals in jail. But because we're dealing with the plastic bags today, the criminal is the plastic bag, and the plastic bag is on trial."

Sheffie Kadane:
"Dwaine said the bags are the criminals. The bags are not the criminals. The people are the criminals. [Caraway's emotional rebuttal: "Let me be clear. If there's a criminal, then the criminal is us."]

Kadane thinks any bag-reduction effort should be left to retailers. "I'm not going to micromanage how they do business. I think they [plastic bags] are good, they're for a good use; they're easy to handle. We don't have a right to tell that retailer he can't use plastic bags."

Jerry Allen:
"The solution is not a full out plastic-bag ban." That's the 'emotional response.' It has to become more of a market-based strategy." He wants to implement some type of user fee that would help fund a litter-reduction campaign.

Scott Griggs:
Calls plastic bags "this generation's [litter] problem that we need through leadership to take head on." Holds up a pull tab of the type that used to open beer cans. As litter, they were once ubiquitous. "Someday I want the plastic bag to be as hard to find in city parks as this pull tab is today.

Vonciel Hill:
"I think a study is the proper way to go. I don't think we have enough GOOD information to proceed at this time."

She also doesn't know "what anyone is talking about when people say 'single-use,'" since she uses them as trash-can liners and for picking up garbage.

"The litter in my district is not plastic bags. The litter in my district is chicken boxes and beer boxes."

Jennifer Staubach Gates:
Called Caraway's monologue an "Oscar-worthy performance." Wants "to move forward, yet cautiously." Also, "I look forward to moving forward as quickly as possible so this doesn't linger." Conclusion: "I think it needs to be unique to Dallas. We do not need to copy what Austin is doing. We are not Austin."

Rick Callahan:
Also impressed by Caraway's performance -- "I think we should give him max thespian points" but says a bag ban is "anti-choice, anti-business. Even my mother is opposed to it, and we have talked about it at great length. The enemy, folks, is really not the bag and the enemy is not the producer or the store provider. The enemy is us." Thinks a bag ban is a slippery slope: "If we ban bags, let's also ban drinking or smoking or anyone who really consumes any beverage." He has trouble with cliches: "The cat really is out of the bag, and the bag is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future."

Lee Kleinman:
"My wife hates those bags, so I'll be supporting the ban."

Monica Alonzo:
Wants to "bring it to the Quality of Life Committee, although it has already been to the quality of life committee already."

Sandy Greyson:
"I pretty much liked what Mr. Allen said," meaning she supports some sort of user fee. "I really strongly believe we need a public education component on this issue. ...How are we going to pay for that? We have had a very successful water conservation campaign for a number of years. That has not been inexpensive. We've spent millions of dollars." A fee could help fund that.

Mayor Mike Rawlings:
Wants more discussion of the various options -- not to be confused with "analysis paralysis" -- "to codify and get it real crisp." Cleanliness and litter are at the top of his priority list. "Plastic bags are a little lower. I want to respect our retailers and listen to the citizens of Dallas." Basically just wants to have a town hall meeting.

The council didn't take any official action, but the matter looks like it's headed back to committee.



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52 comments
smichaelclark59
smichaelclark59

If you really want to clean up Dallas get rid of all the cigarette butts that liter the Nation

mcdallas
mcdallas

Everyone knows that Dallas wants PAPER bags, not plastic.  Cowboys know to put a PAPER bag over our heads, not a plastic one.  Now, Jacksonville Jaguars fans, they might want plastic bags at this point in team history...

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

The bags would not be as bad if the stores did not do overkill.  They train the cashiers to put two or three things in each bag.  I use a permanent bag and regularly handle loads that I see put in 4 or 5 bags for the people ahead of me. 

We have a bus stop in front of our building and regularly see those Styrofoam clamshells still reeking of whatever godforsaken something these people eat dropped NEXT to the trashcan.  How pathetic is that behavior?  Or its corollary on the train:  Throw the clamshell out the door as the door opens at a station.  I have ridden a lot of trains in a lot of cities and NEVER saw that behavior outside of Dallas.  I wonder what these individuals' homes are. 

We ought to have surcharges on anything disposable that carries groceries or cooked food. 

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

Finally, city staff is of the opinion that bag bans passed in Austin, California and elsewhere have been quite effective.

Effective at... what?  Banning bags?  Great, a bag ban bans bags. That doesn't mean that it reduced litter.

roo_ster
roo_ster

Yet another dumbass ban on perfectly serviceable objects, when the problem is trashy people. The deposit schemes are no better.

Amy S
Amy S

I have no problem with a deposit system for bags. It creates a financial incentive to clean up.

But in comparison to total tonnage of waste (and yardage as well), why do we ignore bottles and cans? A neighborhood looks just as run down when broken glass litters the street, and it creates more of a hazard for feet and car tires than a plastic bag.

A deposit system would have to be statewide, whether bags or drink containers. Otherwise you just have: 1) sales moving to where no deposit is required and 2) people from outside the zone turning in bags where no deposit was paid and gaming the system.

Cans and bottles have deposits in many other states, and it creates a revenue flow (from the containers that are never redeemed, approximately 5%) for the municipalities to help clean up. They've mechanized the redemption process to a machine the size of a Red Box. It spits out a receipt that is cashed inside the retailer.

Daniel
Daniel

Again with "bodega"? Did he also get a "hoagie" while he was there? Exactly how hard was he trying to be from New York?

If you insist on using regional dialect for "convenience store" (which in itself works just fine), a closer match would be the Austin/San Antonio term "ice house." 

Now I will go meditate on why exactly this bothers me so much.

ruddski
ruddski

The problem isn't plastic bags or bottles, the problem is Texans are kinda filthy.

Wilson
Wilson

Once we get rid of plastic bag litter, can someone figure out a way to cut down on the beer bottles that show up on my front lawn several times a week?  The open container law has been good for cutting down on/ punishing DWI, but has had a terrible unintended consequence...

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Ban the plastic water bottles. Those things are everywhere.


I use the plastic grocery bags as garbage bags. I have a little plastic stand I bought years ago designed to hold one. Fits under the sink perfectly. Every day it goes in the dumpster. No big bags of trash sitting around inside the house. No expense of buying bags specifically to throw in the trash. (that's marketing genius. as if we don't throw away enough crap, mandate the purchase of a product specifically to be thrown away)


Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

I also disagree with a complete ban. I would like to see a 10-20 cent charge per bag. THis would do 2 things:

1. Discourage people using bags for one or 2 things.

2. Encourage people to buy and use reusable bags.

3. Not make it so you had to buy a whole new set of reusable bags if you forgot yours when you go grocery shopping.

I personally prefer the reusable bags. They hold more, are easier to carry, and I can carry more of them at once.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

This can't happen...poor Myrna's litter box will never be emptied. Six cats.

casiepierce
casiepierce

What's a "bodega"? We don't have those here. We have 7-11.

rzimmerman1
rzimmerman1

Does Dwaine Caraway actually speak as poorly as Eric types? Just wondering...

markzero
markzero

@MikeWestEast We could ban styrofoam containers. It wouldn't change behavior but at least paper containers would degrade quickly.

markzero
markzero

@Amy S They've got ways of minimizing #2. The cans and bottles in Oregon, for example, have different UPC codes than the ones in Washington, and the machines read the UPCs. Of course, this means broken bottles and crushed cans don't get refunded, either, but it's a start.

Djon_Brown
Djon_Brown

@ruddski esp smokers that toss their butts out constantly, they tend to litter more of everything then bums under the bridges!

ruddski
ruddski

Folks throw crap in front yards because they know it will be cleaned up.

markzero
markzero

@Montemalone I don't usually see water bottles as litter. But I think the people walking through the neighborhood and littering aren't usually jogger types. Thankfully, also, since fewer people smoke, I never see cigarette butts, either. Cans from beer or soda I do see.

ruddski
ruddski

Six animals that shit in thre house. Bet she lives alone.

Wilson
Wilson

@Sharon_Moreanus I'm pretty sure you will still be able to buy trash bags. A roll of small ones doesn't cost much, and you can be sure they don't have holes in them, unlike used plastic shopping bags.

Daniel
Daniel

@casiepierce I see you beat me to it, Casie. 

Sharon, she's right -- this is an almost exclusively East Coast, and more specifically Greater NYC, term, at least among Anglophones. It's pretentious much in the same way as it would be to call East Dallas "SoMo" (which thankfully did not catch on, despite a late 1990s grass-roots campaign; Uptown, I'm afraid, we're stuck with).  

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

We also have bodega's but you prefer 7-11. SMH.

Daniel
Daniel

@rzimmerman1 If it weren't for stupid comments, I'd have "no comment" at all.

ruddski
ruddski

People love to mess wiiith Texas.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@ruddski 

*LOL*

No. Folks throw crap in front yards because that is where the inconsiderate assholes just happen to be when they are finished with their Big Gulp.

Your assumption implies some sort of higher order thinking that I don't think these people are capable of.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

@Djon_Brown agreed with dogs owners.  its nice to the that apartments are going to poop DNA. 

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

@ruddski "she" let that slip one day and i believe that. 6 cats-wtf? 

now her NY and jewish stories...not so much.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Daniel @casiepierce Give it up.  It's a frikkin Spanish word for a small store.  Did you really think the term 'bodega' wouldn't gradually infiltrate Texan colloquialisms?  Really?

markzero
markzero

@kduble @markzero @MikeWestEast -Multnomah County in Oregon actually banned them, if I remember right.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@ruddski 

Out here on Old Mattress Road is where all of those plastic bags blow away to ever-so-gradually decompose.

I bet I've pick a thousand of those things out of my fence lines.

ruddski
ruddski

Where I live, littering gets a BIG fine. It's very, very clean here. Maybe there's a connection

ruddski
ruddski

Hey, like the DO, it's free. You get what you pay for.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@rzimmerman1 @TheCredibleHulk @Daniel Welcome to our own little UP circle of Hell. Brought to you free of charge by Livefyre.

Wait till it starts putting your comments in random, unassociated stories.

rzimmerman1
rzimmerman1

@TheCredibleHulk @Daniel @rzimmerman1 

Just so everyone knows, when this story was first posted yesterday, it was so full of typos that it was pretty much unreadable. I attempted to comment, but the website was apparently having issues. When I checked back, my comment had posted 4 times, so I edited. Then the story disappeared completely and reappeared later looking very different.

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