Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Proposed plastic bag ban draws critics

Students now working with city staff

Express Staff Writer

Environmental legislation the world over often faces pushback from business interests trying to cut costs or woo consumers.

The little town of Hailey is no different.

A small group of Wood River High School students has stirred up some green controversy with a proposal to prohibit stores from providing plastic shopping bags. They say the ban would reduce pollution, help protect wild animals and reduce oil consumption.

Business leaders in the valley are pushing back against the proposed ban, saying it will burden grocery stores and inconvenience customers.

Under the proposed ban, paper bags would be permitted and kept on hand by retailers, but cost customers 15 cents each.

The school's Environmental Club proposes that half of the money collected for paper bags be given back to retailers. The other half would go into a fund to educate the community about ongoing educational programs.

"As a business and as a family, we are not in favor of this," said Chip Atkinson, an owner of Atkinsons' Markets in Hailey, Ketchum and Bellevue.

Atkinson said the cost of buying and dispensing plastic bags for his grocery stores is an "insignificant cost" that is passed on to consumers. He said educational efforts, including Hailey's "Just Bag It" campaign, are leading to a gradual increase in the use of reusable bags at Atkinsons' in Hailey, from 3.1 percent in 2008 to about 6 percent in 2011.

"Education is the best tool," he said.

But the gradual elimination of plastic shopping bags may not be fast enough for Hailey City Council members.

They agreed Monday to consider putting the issue on the November ballot for an advisory vote. If the vote passes, the city could institute a ban.

City Attorney Ned Williamson said he would provide pro bono legal counsel to the students in order to get language in their proposed ordinance into shape for a future council meeting. City staff will also research the legalities of collecting fees for the use of paper bags.

The City Council also agreed Monday to put representatives of the students, members of the Environmental Club, in contact with Hailey Sustainability Coordinator Mariel Platt to gather more information about similar ordinances passed in San Francisco, Telluride, Colo., and elsewhere. Councilwoman Martha Burke said the students should remain involved with the city as it gathers more information on the issue.

"This is their pony. It's their race," she said.

Tony Evans:

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