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Plastic Bag Ban Could Be Approved By Council Thursday

kroger plastic bags
Rogelio V. Solis

Cincinnati Council is expected to approve an ordinance Thursday banning single use plastic bags. It would apply starting Jan. 1, 2021, to stores that sell food, including restaurants. A council committee approved the measure Wednesday.

Cincinnati City Council Member Chris Seelbach had announced the proposal in March, but a formal vote was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He's been working on this ban for eight years, and he said it's "very complicated."

"Because of lots of definitions, and there's a lot of parties who were interested in this, from the Sierra Club to a Beyond Plastics group to Kroger, who's the largest grocery store in the country," Seelbach said during a March interview. "And so, it's just taken time to get everyone on the same page, including my colleagues."

The ordinance states "Americans on average use one single use plastic bag per person per day, amounting to around 100 billion disposable plastic bags annually; and single use plastic bags in landfills take hundreds of years to biodegrade and may even then release microplastics and toxic substances into the environment."

Kroger had already announced it was going to stop using the bags by 2025 and is supportive of the new Cincinnati ordinance.

Jeanne Nightingale with Past Plastics Cincinnati spoke to the committee Wednesday in favor of the ban.

"Without this kind of decisive action plastic pollution is set to quadruple by 2050," Nightingale said. "It becomes ever more critical that we make this cultural shift away from the tyranny of convenience that plastic has played in our lives since the '70s."

Tanner Yess is with Groundwork Ohio River Valley and supports the measure. His group hires young people for green jobs.

"When we asked what Cincinnati's biggest environmental problem is, 99% of the time, the answer is litter; plastic bags being the number one culprit," Yess said. "While this may or may not be Cincinnati's biggest environmental challenge, it gives insight into perception around community pride and stewardship. When residents, especially in underserved communities, see their neighborhoods as a place for trash to gather, it affects how their quality of life plays out, and ultimately held in place."

Ray Loflin with Willow Ridge Plastics in Erlanger offered testimony to the committee against the ban. He said council has not fully considered all options for plastic pollution.

"I have personally advised multiple governments around the world on the best way to limit plastic pollution, while still taking advantage of all the benefits plastics can offer," Loflin said. "Our technology has been proven time and again to cause plastic to biodegrade and result in non-toxic, medium to sensitive plant, animal, and aquatic life."

Food inspectors with the city's health department would enforce the ordinance during routine inspections, and they will have a check box on their inspection forms about single use plastic bags.  

Stores and restaurants would face fines of $100 per day until they stop using the bags.

However, city officials would be offering education and help to assist establishments in complying with the new law.

There will be lots of outreach before the new law takes effect, which includes giving away thousands of reusable bags. Seelbach said Kroger will be helping to fund the reusable bags.

Customers would be encouraged to bring their own reusable cloth bags. But they would also have the option to buy a paper bag or a heavier duty reusable plastic bag for five cents at stores and restaurants, but that fee would not start until July 1, 2021. And that five-cent fee would be waived for anyone receiving federal supplemental food subsidies.

There is also a "pandemic clause" in the proposed ordinance that would allow the city manager to waive the ban during an emergency, similar the one in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.