For the sake of a cleaner city and planet, Minneapolis will mount a new attack on single-use plastic bags, hoping a nickel charge for each one will encourage shoppers to bring their own.
Two years ago, the city moved to ban them altogether, only to find their ordinance outlawed by the Legislature one day before it was to go into effect. Council Member Cam Gordon, who wrote the ban, then suggested making shoppers pay for their bags, though he held off on the idea to see if lawmakers would reverse course.
Gordon says it's now time for the city to get tough on disposable bags. His ordinance would charge 5 cents for each bag — paper, plastic and reusable — given out at grocery stores, convenience stores and other retailers. That nickel fee would be kept by the businesses.
The renewed effort is part of a wave of actions to alter what city leaders see as problematic behavior, from putting new restrictions on cigarette sales to cutting down on parking to encourage bike use.
If it puts the bag fee in place, Minneapolis would join hundreds of governments across the country that either charge fees for bags or ban plastic bags altogether. California and Hawaii have both enacted statewide plastic bag bans.
Duluth city leaders are also preparing to pass a 5-cent fee on bags. On Monday, the Duluth City Council removed paper bags from their proposal.
In an interview Monday, Gordon said he's hoping to reduce litter and the downstream effects of plastic on the environment. The public's awareness of plastic pollution in the ocean and elsewhere has grown steadily in recent years.
"This is a very, very small step, and I think the city is ready to make it," he said. "Hopefully it will encourage folks to bring their own reusable bags or not take a bag when they don't need one."
The ordinance does have exceptions for farmers markets, restaurants and food trucks. Retailers are also allowed to give free bags to customers who use vouchers or food-assistance programs.
Deanna White, the state director for Clean Water Action, said Tuesday that the fee was an "easy step."
"You're not taking away anybody's ability to have a bag, you're not charging an exorbitant fee for a bag," she said. "But it's as much an education tool as anything. The act of having to pay that extra 5 cents gets people's attention."
Many grocery stores, including local co-ops, already charge fees for bags. Some, such as Whole Foods and Target, reward customers for bringing reusable bags.
Kowalski's, a chain of supermarkets in the Twin Cities, opposed the city's original bag ban. On Tuesday, Chief Operating Officer Mike Oase said that when it comes to bags, customers should be able to make their own choices.
"We don't want to penalize them for using a bag," he said. "We'd rather educate them on the value of … reusing bags."
The Minnesota Grocers Association, which represents over 200 retailers, did not reply to requests for comment.
When Minneapolis first discussed banning plastic bags, environmental groups, retailers and lobbyists showed up in numbers at City Hall. There was even a "plastic bag monster" that would arrive, draped with bags from head to toe.
When the council introduced the idea of the bag fee in 2017, opposition was more restrained, although bag manufacturers argued it would hurt low-income customers.
This time around, Gordon called the discourse "anticlimactic." People have shifted their focus to other plastic villains, such as straws.
White, whose organization helped with the city's initial bag ban, said she'd like to see the Legislature set a statewide ban on plastic bags.
The city is hosting a meeting for business owners on the fee at 2 p.m. Friday at City Hall. The council will hold a public hearing on Nov. 18 at 1:30 p.m.