“Paper or plastic?” Or just “Paper?”
The refrain at the end of the grocery store checkout line may change next week in Minneapolis, unless the state Legislature gets its way.
A year after the City Council approved a citywide ban on plastic bags, the Legislature has approved a budget bill with a provision blocking it. If Gov. Mark Dayton signs that bill, the ban — expected to go into effect June 1 — will be moot.
But, for now, stores and consumers are moving forward as if the ban is going to happen. At the entrance to the Target store in downtown Minneapolis, a sign asks customers, “Are you reusable bag ready?” and explains that they’ll get a 5-cent discount for shopping with their own bag when the ban starts. At Lunds & Byerlys, plastic bags are being moved from downtown and Northeast locations to stores outside the city.
“If the city’s ordinance goes into effect, we’re ready and we’ll begin meeting their requirements,” said Lunds & Byerlys spokesman Aaron Sorenson. “And if that ordinance doesn’t go into effect, we’ll follow the state law.”
The City Council passed the bag ordinance last year. It bans stores from supplying plastic bags, with exceptions for bags used to wrap produce, flowers, baked goods, takeout foods, newspapers and dry-cleaning or laundry.
Paper bags will be available for a 5-cent fee, with an exception for customers who use public assistance to buy food.
The ordinance is an effort to move Minneapolis closer to its zero-waste goals. There are a variety of environmental concerns related to plastic bags, from the resources it takes to make them to the litter they create.
Council Member Cam Gordon, the ordinance’s chief author, expressed frustration at what he described as “micromanaging” by the Legislature.
“I think it’s really unfortunate that the plastic bag industry and some of the grocers decided they need to go to the state Legislature to run around our process, and what the council and people of Minneapolis wanted to do to help manage our own litter and our waste problems,” he said.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, one of the lead authors of the measure blocking local bag bans, which would take effect May 31, said he thinks businesses are already doing enough by offering plastic bag recycling and giving consumers the choice between plastic, paper and reusable bags.
“I think the market is taking care of itself without us doing this,” he said.
Opponents of the bag ban have raised concerns about the effect it might have on businesses and consumers.
Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association, said having varying regulations across the state would put pressure on both large and small grocers in an already-competitive food market. There’s a concern that Minneapolis grocery stores might lose customers to other cities where plastic bags aren’t banned, she said.
Deanna White, state director for the environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action, said it may take some time for consumers to get used to a bag ban — and it would be the role of organizations like hers to make sure that transition goes smoothly. But “I don’t know anybody that’s going to drive to another town in order to get a plastic bag,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Martha Gardner stopped at the Target in downtown Minneapolis and noticed the sign notifying customers about the bag ban at the front of the store. She said she reuses plastic grocery bags for garbage, and isn’t sure what she’ll do when she runs out of the stash she’s got at home.
When it comes to shopping, though, Gardner figures she’s set.
“I’ve got plenty of red bags at home,” she said, patting a reusable red Target bag slung over her shoulder. “I just have to remember to bring them.”