The city of Laramie is right to move forward efforts to reduce the presence of single-use plastic bags in the community. Anyone who has participated in a public cleanup day has no love for these things as they cling to fences and become tangled and torn in grass. Have you ever chased a bag down in the wind? The sentimental profundity of the scene in the film “American Beauty” of the plastic bag dancing in a breeze loses all its charm.
Laramie’s city staff spends the equivalent of an additional full-time job each year in staff hours picking up litter, roughly 20% of which is plastic bags that blow away from the landfill with Laramie’s notorious winds. Excessive contamination in Laramie’s recycling stream — which often includes plastic bags — recently added $5 per ton to the city’s bill, which contributes to the current $40 per ton price tag.
It would clearly be a benefit to the community to reduce the amount of flimsy, single-use plastic. Taxpayers would likely save money and volunteers would save effort in trying to make Laramie a clean place to live, and it contributes positively to the broader effort of reducing the waste of finite resources and polluting materials in the environment.
Some may argue that if the city is going to regulate plastic bags, then to be fair, it should step in and impose rules on plastic straws; plastic cutlery, packaging and bags from restaurants; and, indeed, the plastic bags that delivered Boomerangs are wrapped in to protect the newspapers from the elements.
It’s absolutely true that these are all areas that should eventually be addressed. But plastic bags from large retailers are an unbalanced contributor to wasted and littered plastic locally, so why not start there? The city of Jackson’s recently implemented ordinances banning single-use plastic bags from grocery stores do a good job of defining what types of plastic bags are currently being regulated and which are not. The city can look at further efforts to reduce waste and litter in the future by addressing other areas, but grocery stores and other large retailers are the best place to start.
Kudos to the Laramie Youth Council for taking the initial steps on getting the ball rolling here. Members recommended in December the City Council adopt a $0.15 fee per bag at stores. Stores could be allowed to offer bags and recoup the cost of the bags with the fee.
After the Laramie City Council’s unanimous vote to approve a resolution “to diminish and regulate retail-use plastic bag waste within the city,” the plan is to implement a 12-18-month education program to reduce plastic bag usage, which would start later this summer.
The desire to move a little slower, according to city staff, is to ensure a high level of cognizance on how large of an educational effort it could be, especially considering current staffing levels at the city’s Solid Waste Division. It will also be important to consider the cost of enforcement to the city.
Additionally, city staff needs time to gather any relevant data and to include local businesses and the public in the effort before rushing too quickly into potential fees and other regulatory measures.
While all of that is understandable, we agree with the Youth Council member who at the January meeting urged the City Council to fasttrack the initiative. As far as we see, quickly regulating plastic bags does not lead to any major public or budgetary catastrophe that time would help advert; it just doesn’t make sense at this point to drag it out any longer than necessary.
The January discussion at City Council was well-publicized; it’s not as though local individuals and businesses were blindsided. Even so, no protestations have, at this point, become public. That could change, but for now it doesn’t appear anyone is so disturbed as to feel compelled to come forward. Is a year or even two-year long education process necessary in those circumstances? We think not.
Laramie again has a great opportunity to be a leader among municipalities in the Cowboy State when it comes to implementing forward-thinking policy that moves the community in the right direction. It’s good to see the city taking the steps to be that leader going into 2020. But hey, if we’re going there, let’s be bold and get this policy implemented in 2020.