New State Symbol of Arizona: The Disposable Plastic Bag?

The legislature passed a bill on April 2 that bans local governments from banning single-use plastic bags as well as other disposable containers under the premise that it's bad for the state economy, though only one city in the state has such a law.
April 6, 2015, 9am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Zainub Razvi

Just as California made history in September when it became the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags statewide, Arizona is poised to make history if Gov. Doug Ducey signs Senate Bill 1241 that would "ban the banning" of disposable plastic bags—statewide.

The bill's sponsor, State Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix), justifies it as being in the state's best economic interests to prevent cities from regulating these types of environmental issues. "Municipalities acting on their own to implement these mandates run counter to the state’s goal to overcome Arizona’s sluggish job growth and economic stability," she states in an article by Rick Rojas of The New York Times.

The bill would prevent cities and counties from regulating the “sale, use or disposition of auxiliary containers,” which include single-use disposable bags, boxes, cans and bottles. It would also prohibit requirements for businesses to report energy use.

While only the small mining and tourist city of Bisbee, population 5,575, "southeast of Tucson, banned single-use plastic bags and requires a 5-cent charge per paper bag," notes Rojas, "Tempe and Flagstaff are considering whether to enact similar bans," writes Dustin Gardiner of The Arizona Republic.

Lauren Kuby, a city councilwoman in Tempe (pop. 162,000), is critical of the bill. "In a state where leaders often rebel against federal oversight, Ms. Kuby accused legislators of taking away the decision-making authority of local officials," writes Rojas. “It’s a very ironic thing, and it’s poor public policy,” she said.

Kuby "cited estimates that 50 million single-use plastic bags are used each year in the city and that less than 5 percent are recycled," writes Rojas. "She said the city faced costs from litter, as well as from the damage the plastic bags caused to machinery at recycling facilities."

Back to California: The plastic bag industry funded a successful signature gathering to repeal the bag ban law. Consequently, voters will decide its fate at a referendum in November, 2016. 

If the referendum passes, i.e., voters reject the statewide disposable bag ban, "it will not affect plastic local bag bans that have been put in place in recent years by cities and county officials in 138 California communities, including San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz and Monterey," according to Paul Rogers of the San Jose Mercury News.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, April 2, 2015 in The New York Times
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