Utah lawmakers may overrule cities’ plastic bag bans

Plastic garbage thrown on a riverside.

Utah lawmakers may overrule cities’ plastic bag bans

Plastic bags blowing around pose a problem across Utah, but the bigger issue, for some state lawmakers, is cities’ efforts to ban them.

Targeting ordinances already enacted by two left-leaning, tourism-dependent cities, HB320 would block Utah cities and counties from regulating “auxiliary containers.” Moab and Park City have banned retailers from distributing single-use plastic sacks for packaging customers’ purchases as a way to reduce litter and promote the use of more durable reusable bags.

A small glass bottle on the seashore.

Photo Credit: unsplash.com

These regulations and similar ones contemplated in much larger Logan and Salt Lake City disrupt the marketplace and hurt businesses, sponsoring Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, told the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee on Monday.

“If you want to regulate plastic bags, let’s do it consistently and do it across the state,” Dave Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, urged the panel, which advanced the bill on a 6-4 vote. “For our retailers, it presents a challenge when each community does its own thing.”

Several speakers Monday denounced McKell’s bill as a sop to special interests that seek to profit at the expense of communities’ ability to protect their interests and safeguard the environment.

”Communities all over the place are trying to find solutions to a mountain of garbage clogging our oceans,” said Michael Cundick of SLC Air Protectors. “We need all of our municipalities to have every tool available to deal with the problem.”

Plastic bag waste also imposes significant costs to local governments that must gather bags dispersed by wind and extricate them from sorting equipment, according to Park City Mayor Andy Beerman, whose town enacted Utah’s first bag ban in 2017.

“There is a reason cities and towns exist,” Beerman said in an interview. “It’s to deal with the unique challenges for their community.”

Three large retailers fall under Park City’s ordinance, which limits its reach to grocery stores exceeding 12,000 square feet.

Last year, Moab leaders enacted an ordinance banning all plastic bags less than 2.25 mils in thickness issued at checkout.

Both these small cities host millions of tourists who come to enjoy outdoor recreation in surrounding scenic lands.

Single-use disposable plastic bags are viewed as an environmental scourge because they get caught in tree limbs and fences, accumulate along roads and in waterways, and have been found in the throats of dead sea turtles.

But they represent a puny piece of the nation’s solid waste stream, an industry lobbyist told the committee last week, citing a handful of studies whose findings suggest plastic bags are not a serious problem.

Last year, the Legislature rejected a Democratic-sponsored bill that would have imposed a 10-cent fee on each bag provided to customers at grocery stores. It also killed a measure similar to HB320.

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