Grocery shopping and Target trips in St. Louis Park may never be the same.
The city is on the verge of doing something that no other city in Minnesota has done: enacting a complete ban on single-use plastic bags.
Even ultra-green Boulder, Colo., a city synonymous with environmentalism, hasn’t gone that far. Many California cities have banned plastic bags, but when a statewide ban was put in place last year, fierce pushback from the bag industry forced a delay and a statewide vote that will take place in November 2016.
St. Louis Park is also considering banning polystyrene food containers, but many other cities — most recently Minneapolis — have done that. A plastic-bag ban would instantly put St. Louis Park on the map as a national pacesetter in environmental consciousness.
“I hope St. Louis Park will be a leader on this,” said Tim Brausen, a City Council member who made the idea part of his campaign platform when he was elected in 2013. “I think it’s time to be forward-looking and intelligent about our use of resources. I don’t think we can pursue what’s cheapest and easiest any longer. We have to look at what’s healthy and sustainable.”
A majority of the seven council members have expressed support for a ban, including Anne Mavity. But Mavity cautioned that a ban — if it happens — will come only after careful consideration and plenty of input from residents and businesses.
“Over the summer we’ll have a public conversation with our residents about the pluses and minuses, their concerns and desires,” Mavity said. “And then in the fall, we’ll take all that information and make some policy decisions on what to do, which would undoubtedly include a transition time.
“We have not made a decision to do it, but we are putting in place an extraordinarily methodical and thoughtful process to get it done,” she said. “We don’t want to do anything random. We love our business community, and we want to be fair as we move forward.”
One local business owner sounded ready to start right away.
“I feel totally good about it,” said Vitaly Koval, owner of Vitali’s Bistro, a coffee shop and cafe on Minnetonka Boulevard. “As an observant Jew, [I believe] everyone should be responsible not only for themselves, but for the future, the kids, the people around you.”
Koval said his cafe uses paper takeout containers and biodegradable plastic bags, but he’d be happy to switch away from plastic bags entirely.
Grocery stores are key
The largest users of plastic bags are grocery stores, and it’s critical to get their cooperation on any proposal about plastic bags, said Bruce Walker, solid-waste and recycling program manager in Portland, Ore. In 2011, Portland enacted a ban on plastic bags for large grocery stores and pharmacies, then extended that to a full citywide bag ban in 2013.
“It took a couple years of reaching out, holding meetings, getting some grocers on board,” Walker said. “Once we got to the tipping point of grocers realizing this is likely to happen, they got on board and it made a real difference.” Since the ban, the use of reusable grocery bags has about tripled, Walker said.
Representatives of Cub Foods and Lunds & Byerlys, which have stores in St. Louis Park, did not return calls for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for Trader Joe’s said she had no comment on the St. Louis Park proposal, “but we will certainly comply with any and all local ordinances.”
Target spokeswoman Kristy Welker said the retailer “encourages guests and communities to reduce their plastic-bag use, and we work with local governments to comply with all regulations.
“Nationwide, Target currently has 108 stores that operate in cities with limits on the types of bags retailers provide. In those markets, guests have adapted to the options available,” Welker said. Target also offers guests a 5-cent discount for using reusable bags. That has saved the equivalent of 475 million plastic bags since 2009, she said.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance represents a number of U.S. plastic-bag recyclers and manufacturers. The industry is opposed to bag bans and taxes, said spokeswoman Mindi Mebane.
“We don’t believe they are thoughtful and effective approaches to environmental policy. We’re seeing pushback when it comes to this kind of state and local legislation,” she said. Last week, Huntington Beach, Calif., repealed a plastic-bag ban passed in 2013. In Fort Collins, Colo., lawmakers passed a 5-cent fee on disposable bags in August, then repealed it two months later — before it even took effect.
For Brausen, it’s an easy choice.
“To me, it seems pretty simple,” he said. “We just have to have the political will to do it.”