A proposed ban on plastic bags in Ann Arbor has been bagged — at least temporarily. The Ann Arbor City Council decided at a meeting on Tuesday to put the vote to ban plastic bags on hold until later this year, arguing that enough details weren’t known. If it ever makes it to a vote, the ban would be the first of its kind in Washtenaw County and could set a good example for the rest of the state to follow. City Council has been dragging its feet on this important issue long enough: It must implement this environmentally friendly proposal. But even without a ban on plastic bags, students can still promote greener alternatives by switching to cloth bags on their own.
The proposed ban on plastic bags isn’t new to City Council. It was first introduced in June 2008, mirroring similar proposals and bans in cities across the country, notably San Francisco and Los Angeles. Tuesday’s delay marks the third time the proposal has been tabled. The proposal would prohibit all retailers with yearly sales of more than $1 million from providing plastic bags to shoppers. Because the ban would only affect retailers inside city limits, it would primarily impact Briarwood and Arborland Malls.
The ban’s benefits are clear — plastic bags aren’t conducive to a healthy environment. Plastic bags are made from petrochemicals, which come from fossil fuels. As more bags are manufactured and used, nonrenewable resources are depleted. And plastic bags take an extremely long time to decompose, adding to Michigan’s already-overflowing landfills. As the bags do break down, they leave harmful contaminants in their wake.
Banning plastic bags has positively impacted the communities that have done so. San Francisco’s 2007 ban reduced the consumption of plastic bags by five million per month. Similar measures have been taken in Los Angeles and recently in San Jose. Though Ann Arbor might not benefit as heavily as these larger communities, Ann Arbor’s City Council should do whatever it can to encourage greener options.
Critics of the ban may say it will hurt businesses, but this is unlikely. Because the ban only applies to grocery stores with a yearly gross of more than $1 million, smaller establishments wouldn’t be affected. And larger stores shouldn’t have much of a problem shouldering the monetary burden associated with a ban.
In any case, there are plenty of more environmentally friendly options to replace plastic bags. Decomposable plastic bags do exist, and though they are more expensive, large retailers could afford to offer them if they really want to stick with plastics. But the best option is cheap, durable cloth bags, which can easily be reused. And students don’t need to wait for City Council to opt for this choice — cloth bags are already available with many larger retailers.
The plastic bag ban would be an environmentally responsible measure, and City Council shouldn’t have delayed its passage again. But in the meantime, students can avoid plastic bags on their own to create a greener campus community.