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Austin Disposable Plastic Bag Ban Takes Effect

Consumers and retailers adjust to the city's ban on disposable plastic bags, which took effect last week.
March 5, 2013

AUSTIN - The disposable bag is no longer allowed in Austin, Texas. As of March 1, retailers must only provide plastic bags thicker than 4 millimeters, paper bags made with 40% recycled content or reusable cloth bags, The Dallas Morning News reports.

Many customers were caught off-guard with the change, leaving stores with groceries loose in their shopping carts.

"I just loaded up everything in the back, but I usually always keep bags with me," said Karina Tribble, shopping at a local Walmart. "I just forget them."

Austin is Texas�� largest city to enact such a bag ban, following similar efforts by Brownsville, South Padre Island and Fort Stockton.

The Austin Resource Recovery Center said the new rule affects about 17,5000 businesses, including convenience stores and liquor stores. Exemptions were carved out for plastic bags for produce, dry cleaning and some restaurant carryout bags.

"Austin is a really green city, and a lot of shoppers are already bringing their reusable bags," said Courtney Black, spokeswoman for the city��s waste management service. "We realize this could be an adjustment for people who aren��t really in the habit, but we hope that it��s a pretty seamless transition."

Leslie Sweet, spokesperson for H-E-B grocery stores, said the rule change required retraining more than 12,000 employees on bagging procedures.

"We can only imagine we��ll probably see several hundred types of reusable bags that our team needs to know how to bag quickly to help get customers out the door," she said.

Walmart now charges 10 cents for paper bags with handles and 50 cents for reusable bags. At H-E-B, the first bag is now free, while additional bags cost 25 cents each.

The Austin City Council approved the ban last year, after a study revealed residents used 263 million plastic bags a year, costing the city more than $850,000 in annual trash costs.

The Texas Retailers Association (TRA) challenged the provision in court, maintaining a provision in the state health and safety code prevents cities from prohibiting certain types of packaging without state permission.

TRA President Ronnie Volkening said the challenge is seeking clarification, not an override of the measure.

"If the state law prevails and the ordinance fails, we need to get back with the city and work on what is the next best alternative," he said.