Paper or Plastic? Duluth Councilor, Group Explore New Bag Rules

Posted at: 01/28/2013 10:17 PM
Updated at: 01/28/2013 10:28 PM
By: Alan Hoglund

Paper or plastic?

We've all heard it. But do you ever use those grocery bags again? A Duluth city councilor is exploring ways to cut down on one-time bag use.

City Councilor Emily Larson is doing that research with a group of community members and leaders called "Bag It! Duluth."

Larson tells Eyewitness News while many be used again, they often are not. And in some cases, it leads to a real mess. "Plastic bags often don't stay in the garbage...they blow out," she said.

Larson said they can end up clogging drains, filling culverts and damaging city infrastructure.

Shawna MullenEardley, a Bag It! Duluth member, said "I see plastic bags in trees everywhere and bags in the river everywhere."

"Part of what we want to do is show people that bag litter is a problem here in Duluth - in our own backyard. It isn't just something people deal with in California with the oceans. We have a problem right here," MullenEardley said.

During their research, Larson said they found 50 cities across the nation have some sort of ordinance in effect regarding bag use. "Bring a bag back you'll get five or ten cents off. Some cities have charged for bags. Others have banned bags all together."

At lease one of those bag-saving strategies is in effect in Duluth.

At the Whole Foods Co-op, Promotions and Education Manager Shannon Szymkowiak, said one of them has existed for longer than she's worked with the company, which is ten years. Bring a container for produce or bulk items and customers save three cents per container. "Our customers really appreciate the chance to use their own containers," she said.

A newer program, started in 2006, allows shoppers to save money by bringing in bags of their own. Szymkowiak called it "Reduce, Reuse, Redeem." She said customers get a punch in a card every time they bring in a bag for their groceries. Get 20 punches and customers save a dollar, or the money can be given to the Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank, and it will be matched by the Co-op.

Since the RRR - or punch card - program started, Szymkowiak said the Co-op has saved about 350,00 bags. She said put down end-to-end they would stretch about 77 miles. "That is quite a cost savings...any way you cut it."

The Target store in Duluth also gives a discount of five cents per bag if customers bring their own, and Cub Foods has a bin placed in the entrance of the store where customers can recycle plastic bags.

There is no proposal in front of city councilors for consideration at this time. Larson said much more research needs to be done, and there needs to be more dialogue with the community before any changes are proposed.

On Thursday, January 31, a showing of a film called "Bag It - Is Your Life too Plastic?" will be showing at the Teatro Zuccone in Duluth. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the film begins at 6:00 p.m. The event is free, and Larson said a dialogue will follow.

According to Bag It! Duluth, the film is about the unintended consequences single-use bags can have on the environment and local infrastructure.

If you would like to join the local conversation about one-time bag use, visit the Bag It! Duluth blog.