Legislature considers plastic bag ban

(Photo by Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The state legislature is considering a ban on plastic shopping bags.

The ban in HB81 is proposed by Anchorage Democratic representative Andy Josephson as a measure to reduce waste and pollution. Josephson argues that plastics are harmful to the environment and can be ingested by fish and wildlife.

The House Community and Regional Affairs committee took public testimony on the bill this month.

Michelle Putz of Sitka is part of a group called Bags for Change. She highlighted the impact of the long lasting bags in the Southeast community of more than eight thousand people.

“Two million bags are given away each year at just our two grocery stores alone, costing stores and consumers over a hundred thousand dollars a year,” she said.

Putz said she’s part of an effort to put a measure on Sitka’s ballot to vote on a local bag ban.

John Havrilek of Petersburg approached the borough assembly in his community about a bag ban and also supported a statewide prohibition.

“To me that’s the most important thing, to keep our oceans clean, our beaches clean,” Havrilek told the Community and Regional Affairs committee. “I live on the water in Wrangell Narrows and daily end up picking plastic bags out of the water and off the beaches. So I would love to see them disappear permanently.”

Petersburg’s borough assembly last year had a brief discussion on the topic last year but did not take any action. Meanwhile some local businesses have started providing reusable bags, alternatives to plastic or are offering to recycle the plastic bags.

Some Alaskan communities have already passed their own local bans. Others testified that bags are no longer found littering those areas.

The industry group American Progressive Bag Alliance opposes the bill and cites studies that plastic bags have less of an impact on the environment.

“Listen we know these policies are well intentioned but the fact is they really do miss the mark on sustainability,” said Matt Seaholm, executive director.

Seaholm also pointed to a recent story by NPR’s Planet Money about the unintended consequences of bag bans around the country.

The act would exempt plastic bag used for produce and other loose food, hardware items, flowers, prescription drugs, wine, or newspapers for use as garbage bags. The proposed bill would create a fine of $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second and $750 for the third. If passed it would take effect in at the start of 2021.

It was moved out of one House committee this month and will go next to another committee.