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Columbia committee works on plastic bag ban

Columbia may join towns like Eugene, Oregon and the state of California in banning grocery stores from handing out plastic bags.

The Energy Use, Efficiency and Conservation Subcommittee met Tuesday night to discuss the conditions of the proposed ordinance, which would eliminate single-use plastic bags from any place that sells perishable food items.

Jan Dye, the outgoing chairwoman of the Osage Sierra Club and new member of the Environment and Energy Committee, proposed the idea at the Columbia City Council’s October 20 meeting. Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe then referred it the Committee for further work.

“Sometimes it seems like the environmental problems the world has now are just insurmountable, like there’s nothing you can do,” Dye said. “But this is something we can fix, and pretty easily, too.”

The proposed ordinance Dye submitted also put a minimum ten-cent fee on paper bags used in stores affected by the ban. The store would be able to set the price of the fee from there. Dye said the intention of the ban and fee is to encourage people to bring their own bags to the store.

“If you didn’t have a fee on the paper bags, what would people do? They would just get paper bags, instead of bring their own bags,” Dye said.

The EPA estimates about 4 million plastic bags were thrown away in 2010. However, the recycling of those bags has also increased since 2005.

While some reusable bags are made of synthetic material, Dye said people can use them multiple times at the store, unlike most plastic bags. She also acknowledged people use those plastic bags for other reasons at home. She said people could still get those bags at other stores, such as clothing outlets.

The ordinance would not include produce bags at grocery stores.

Many of the bans across the country differ. Eugene, Ore. banned plastic bags at all stores in the city limits, and charges five cents per paper bag used. In California, the ban applies to stores above “a certain amount of dollars in sales or retail floor space.”

The subcommittee’s work focused on analyzing the bans already in place.

“One thing I’d like to figure out is how not to put large burdens on stores,” Lawrence Lile, head of the subcommittee said. “This is about reducing waste from single-use plastic bags.”

The Environment and Energy Committee will meet again next Tuesday to discuss the proposal.

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