Minneapolis' plastic bag ban isn't happening – so what do you do with 87,000 tons of bags?

It's now illegal for any Minnesota cities to ban plastic bags.
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One of the brand new laws Minnesota got this week ensures that the question "Paper or plastic?" will not be outlawed anywhere in the state.

It's one of the provisions tucked into a much bigger law (article 8, section 14 here) and it says no local government in the state can ban merchants from using plastic bags. Or paper ones or reusable ones, either.

The new law took effect on Wednesday, May 31. That's the day before a new Minneapolis ordinance banning plastic bags was going to kick in.

GoMN checked in with policymakers for and against the ban on bans. Here's some of what they told us:

Why ban the bans?

Republican Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who sponsored the bill, prefers a market-based approach to the issue rather than a mandate.

Ingebrigtsen first called his measure the Consumer Choice Act. He says the choices customers make in the checkout line should not be limited by local governments. When they are, he says, consumers will respond by going elsewhere.

"A city by city bag ban creates competitive disadvantages along the border, limiting brick and mortar businesses' competitive edge and stifling economic growth," he wrote in an email.

Plastic bag bans have been approved in two states – California and Hawaii – and in a bunch of cities (some are listed here). But retail groups have recently been speaking up against the bans, saying they create an uneven playing field for businesses and a confusing patchwork for consumers.

Earlier this spring, Iowa blocked local bans on plastic bags. The Des Moines Register says a pro-business group called the American Legislative Exchange Council has developed a model for states to use to do that.

'The market isn't taking care of it'

The main reason for bans on plastic bags is that they don't go away. If a paper bag gets thrown on the ground, it eventually decomposes back into the dirt. Not plastic, though.

Minneapolis city council member Cam Gordon, who led the movement to ban single-use bags, says just about all the plastic bags in Minneapolis wind up in landfills or in the city's garbage burner.

Gordon says people who mix plastic bags in with their curbside recycling actually only make things worse. "The plastic gets caught in the machinery of the recycling facilities," he says. "They have to turn off the machines and clean out the plastic. It can take hours."

There are supermarkets and other places where you can drop off plastic bags for recycling (check this site to find one near you). But Gordon argues the marketplace has not really come up with a good re-use for plastic bags.

He says they've been used to make plastic decking or furniture, which can last for years. "But eventually they wear out. Then you have a bigger item that has to be burned or landfilled. There was never a closed loop," Gordon says.

So what do we do?

According to the city of Minneapolis, Minnesotans throw away 87,000 tons of plastic bags every year. The city is encouraging people to bring their own reusable bags with them when they go shopping.

Gordon suggests people use the plastic bag drop-off locations, though he says those are being phased out. Mostly he recommends not getting plastic in the first place. WikiHow has some creative ideas for reusing the bags around the house or in craft projects.

A statement from Minneapolis says the city is looking at ways its ordinance that would have banned plastic bags can be amended to fit within the new law.

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