Duluth City Councilor Introduces Plastic, Paper Bag Fee Resolution

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: September 23, 2019 10:23 PM

Duluth is looking into possibly charging a fee for plastic and paper bags we use when shopping for groceries and other products. 


Councilor Em Westerlund introduced the ordinance which would require retailers to charge five cents for single-use plastic and paper bags.

“This is not about anti plastic, it's about creating a broader shift towards reuse,” said Jamie Harvie, the campaign coordinator for Bag it Duluth.

The ordinance is something Bag it Duluth has been advocating for several years.

“By putting a small fee on paper and plastic, people will do anything to avoid a small minor fee and will remember to bring those reusable bags sitting in their cars and home,” said Harvie.

Harvie said the goal is to promote reuse through a change in behavior, by using reusable carryout bags.  He said it will also raise awareness on the environmental footprint we leave when using single-use plastic and paper bags.

Most retailers and business that offer single-use bags at the point of sale will be subject to the new requirements. These include grocery stores, department stores, hardware stores, pharmacies, liquor stores, restaurants, and convenience stores.

“Having people pay five cents to use plastic bags will make people more aware of the consequences of using plastic and they won’t want to do it as much,” said Madelyn Laborde, a community member.

Aldi's is a business that's known to not provide free carry-out bags. Some local businesses like The Great Lakes Aquarium, Savers, and Yarn Harbor already charge for carryout bags as well.

"I've become more aware of what's going on in society and using more recyclable bags because plastic is not good," said Laborde.

The reason why banning plastic bags isn't an option is because municipalities in the state are prevented by law to do so. Harvie said banning doesn’t help the goal of prioritizing reuse either.

"Municipalities who banned plastic bags shift to paper. The cost of paper bags is substantial for store owners. Paper bags have a higher climate footprint," said Harvie.

“For today’s economy and society, I feel this is the perfect thing to do and right move towards a good future and green environment so I think it's a good idea,” said Margaret Graham, a community member.

The five cent charge would go to retailers. Those with low income would be exempt from the bag fee.

There are some exceptions to this ordinance, like bags not provided at point of sale. The types of plastic bags exempt from the ordinance include dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, door-hanger bags, garment bags, and bags to protect fine art.

Restaurants can continue providing single-use plastic bags for takeout food. Also deli counters who use plastic bags for prepared takeout food to prevent leaks or spills. Food trucks may also use single-use plastic bags only for prepared carryout food.

This also applies to retailers who use thin plastic bags for meat, produce, bulk foods, or bakery items.

“People would be more aware of what they’re doing. Our society is doing a good job of trying to make people more aware,” Laborde said.

Harvie said over 2,000 signatures have been collected from community members and local businesses asking city council to take action on this. 

“People have the choice to pay for the bag but now what they’re doing is paying the ecological cost of the litter it causes,” said Harvie.

Harvie added he's shocked that Duluth, a city known for its outdoor and environmental activity, has taken so long with the ordinance. He said 400 cities in the country have a ordinance in place on plastic bags and said up to 90 percent of them shift to reusable bags as a result. 

The earliest the council could vote on the ordinance is Oct. 14.

To learn more on the effort, click here.


Alejandra Palacios

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