Austin to Ban Plastic Bags

Today in Austin, Mayor Leffingwell along with City Council members Martinez and Riley proposed a ban on plastic bags at major grocery stores and retailers in the city. Every year in Austin, more than 263 million plastic bags are used, costing the city $850,000 a year for clean-up and disposal.

Worldwide, more than 500 billion plastic bags are estimated to be used every year; in the United States, one person uses an average of 600 bags each year. Because plastic bags are non-biodegradable, the elements that can be broken down take hundreds of years but will still always exist in landfills and landforms. Another main issue with plastic bags is ocean pollution. David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, said plastic bag pollution greatly harms marine life. “They choke, strangle, and starve wildlife and raft alien species around the world.” Plastic bags can also clog drains leading to flooding, and also cause many different species each year to die due to harm from plastics.

In 2008, Austin’s organic food market, Whole Foods, ceased use of plastic bags, and are now in progress to eliminate plastic packaging. In 2009, Austin sold 907,000 reusable bags, decreasing the amount of plastic bags bought by 20%. Worldwide, more than 80 governments, both local and national, have bans or regulations on plastic bags.

If this ban is adopted, it will be phased into gradually to decrease heavy usage of non-biodegradable plastic bags. This ban would make Austin the fifth city in Texas, in addition to Brownsville, San Antonio, Fort Stockton and South Padre Island, to place a full or partial ban on the bags.  Until the ban can be placed wholly, targeted retailers include HEB, Randall’s, Walmart, Target, and Walgreens.

Fort Stockton delayed its ban until September 1.…

South Padre Island ban began February 1, 2011; will take full effect January 1,2012.

Brownsville ban began January 5, 2011, placing a $1 fee on single-use bags.…

San Antonio ban began an 18-month pilot program June 28, 2011.…

Alicia Ramsey is a student from Fort Worth studying geography at Texas A&M University, with interests in water resource management.


Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas

As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air and water, parks and wildlife, and a livable climate. Luke recently led the successful campaign to get the Texas Legislature and voters to invest $1 billion to buy land for new state parks. He also helped win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; helped compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at four Texas refineries and chemical plants; and got the Austin and Houston school districts to install filters on water fountains to protect children from lead in drinking water. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks. He is a board member of the Clean Air Force of Central Texas and an advisory board member of the Texas Tech University Masters of Public Administration program. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.