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State lawmakers mull bills stopping Minneapolis, other cities banning plastic bags

Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would ban local governments from banning plastic bags and taxing paper bags.

In three months, a new rule kicks in banning Minneapolis stores from giving plastic bags to customers, but there are efforts at the state level to stop this from happening.

Republican lawmakers are pushing a bill that would prevent local governments from banning plastic bags and taxing paper bags.

Minneapolis approved a plastic ban last year as part of its effort towards zero-waste goals. It's due to come into force in June, along with a new rule saying retailers must charge 5 cents for a paper bag, or eat the cost themselves by contributing to a litter cleanup fund.

A bill stopping cities from banning plastic bags was introduced in the Senate last month by four lawmakers including Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, and was this week discussed in the Senate Environment Committee. (A similar bill has also been introduced to the Minnesota House.)

Sen. Ingebrigtsen told the committee that a city-by-city approach with bans and fees would lead to "hodgepodge regulations" throughout the state, according to KARE 11, while others said it should be up to the individual to choose whether they want to use a plastic bag – and give them the option to re-use them too.

This stance has been backed by members of the grocery and retail industry, but KARE 11 reports Minneapolis leaders argue the bill would "thwart the will of local government." It also ignores the discussions the city has had with constituents and businesses before making the decision.

The committee meeting decided to set the bill aside for now, but that doesn't mean it won't proceed further this year. Senators agreed that it could be part of an omnibus bill before the end of the legislative session.

It's not the first example of city and state disputes this legislative session. Last week, lawmakers introduced a measure that would disrupt cities' plans to set their own minimum wage and paid leave rules, affecting ordinances being considered by Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The environmental impact of plastic bags

The Earth Policy Institute estimates a trillion single-use plastic bags are used across the world each year – and the amount of energy required to make 12 plastic shopping bags could drive a car for a mile.

Plastic is not biodegradable, so they either end up in landfills, being littered or finding their way into waterways and oceans, Scientific American reports.

Countries and cities across the world have been implementing plastic bag bans in the past decade, the magazine reports, with one introduced in Ireland in 2002 reportedly leading to a 95 percent reduction in plastic bag litter.

One Green Planet reports there's also an impact in wildlife, with birds in particular noted for ingesting discarded plastic bags, while fish and sea mammals are at risk of strangulation.

The economic impact of bans

NBC News reports plastic bag ban legislation can be "something of a mixed bag," with detractors arguing it ends up making grocery shopping more unaffordable for poorer residents.

Bag bans can be confusing too. For example in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reports a ban on thin plastic bags that went into effect last August saw some retailers offer thicker plastic bags – which actually take longer to decompose – that complied with the new rules.

But these bags also cost businesses more, and prompted retailers to do more to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags.

Last month, the Chicago plastic bag ban was replaced with a new law that places the burden on the customer rather than the business. Consumers are instead charged a 7-cent tax for every plastic or paper bag they need at checkout, ABC 7 reports.

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