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Supporters talk about plan to ban plastic bags in Columbia

At the beginning of the meeting, Lawrence Lile praised plastics.

Manufacturers crafted most of the items in the Columbia City Council meeting room dozens of people filled Tuesday night out of plastic. Lile called it an “amazing” substance, but said its power was being misused by the topic of the forum he and the Environment and Energy Commission held.

“It’s a shame to be throwing it away in a single-use product,” Lile, the chairman of the commission, said about single-use plastic bags. “A product that’s used for twenty minutes, possibly once more to line a trash can, and then thrown in a landfill.”

The commission held the forum to explain its idea for a citywide ban on certain stores handing out plastic bags. The proposed ordinance would prohibit stores with perishable items, such as grocery and pharmacies from giving the bags out at checkout. It would also put a ten-cent fee on any paper bag the shopper receives.

A packet of information given at the meeting explained the fee was put in place to promote shoppers bringing their own bags – which could include the single-use plastic bags handed out now.

The ban would not apply to clothing stores and restaurants, and also allow grocery stores to carry plastic produce and meat bags.

The commission also pointed to the bags’ impact on the environment. The city’s stormwater division said plastic bags make up the third-most found trash item during volunteer cleanups. Melanie Cheney with Missouri River Relief said at the meeting the same went for that body of water.

“The majority of plastic bags and wrappers we find are cut up in willow trees along the banks of the river, many of which are already broken down into fragments by the time they reach the Missouri [River],” Cheney said.

Dr. Frederick vom Saal, an MU professor who studies plastics and the environment, said the polyethylene in plastic bags becomes dangerous when it’s broken down by ultraviolet light and “photo-degrades.” The resulting fragments of the bags are consumed by birds and fish and enter the food chain.

A report from the EPA shows 4 million plastic bags entered landfills in 2010, but that recycling of the bags picked up since 2005.

Currently, the city council wants to hold a vote on the issue in March. On January 20, Sixth Ward councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, who was in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, asked the council introduce the ordinance at its February 16 meeting. That would allow the council to vote on it as early as March 2.

At that same meeting in January, councilwoman Laura Nauser said she would vote against it, saying single-use plastic bags are a legal product. Mayor Bob McDavid also expressed reservations, saying it seemed too much like the city government stepping too far into business affairs.

However, councilman Ian Thomas supported the idea at that meeting, citing the attempt to reduce litter.

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