Not so fast: Plastic bag ban stumbles at final reading

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – With a chance to put their name to a seminal plastic bag ban ordinance in Jackson, both outgoing council members Bob Lenz and Don Frank pressed pause on the third and final reading, guaranteeing they won’t be around to decide its fate and delaying the eight-year discussion yet another three weeks.

The new ordinance that was supposed to be a done deal wasn’t done at Monday night’s regular meeting of the town council. As at previous readings, public comment was peppered with local business owners who complained the ordinance would unfairly burden local mom-and-pop shops when the real bad guy in the plastic waste stream is large grocers like Smith’s and Albertson’s.

“I find myself pretty upset of where we are right now,” said local town square business owner Sean Love. “This is arbitrary in nature the way it is being implemented, without regard to the cost to myself and other retailers.”

Love said the ordinance would cost him an additional $65,000 a year to comply with. He also felt outreach was lacking and wondered why the county wasn’t also being targeted as Love said his businesses competed with businesses outside town limits.

Finally, Love threatened he would simply take whatever surplus plastic bags he had when the ordinance went into effect (November 2019) to the transfer station and dump them into the landfill—further contributing to the waste stream and defeating the purpose of the ban. He alleged the law amounted to nothing less than the seizure of his personal property (plastic bag stock) similar to eminent domain.

Several other local business owners expressed a desire to see more carrot and less stick with the movement to eliminate plastic bag use. Jackson Whole Grocer, for instance, has been ahead of the game for years trying to reduce the use of plastic at the checkout.

Lenz agreed with the notion, stating, “This community is so ready to ban plastic bags you do not need to hit anyone over the head with it.”

How they voted

Councilmen Lenz and Frank have been outspoken allies to local business owners. Both voiced concern about how the ordinance might unduly target smaller retailers.

Frank said he has been worried all along about unintended consequences and loopholes exposed of late in the proposed new law. Lenz, too, worried the local business owner was getting whacked too hard, too soon with implementation.

“All I’ve heard is this is not a revenue thing but at the last meeting it as all we talked about—the money it would bring in. Six figures. You are talking about big money. It is a revenue bill the way it sits,” Lenz said. “We are not treating everyone the same when you are putting smaller local businesses on the same playing field against large grocery stores. The timing is way off, too. Next November is way too soon for these people to do it.”

Councilman Jim Stanford grew frustrated with the delay but committed to seeing the ordinance through after unanimous votes at the two previous readings.

“If we have to wait until the new year, we will keep working at it I guess. It’s disappointing that we haven’t been able to get across the finish line in eight years of discussing at this. And this is one of the easy things,” Stanford said. “And nobody is hitting anybody over the head with a hammer. I don’t care for the mischaracterizations of some of the public comment. I’m sure someone got stuck with a lot of unleaded gasoline or got stuck with asbestos at some point. Eleven months is plenty of time to get rid of your plastic bag stock.”

With Hailey Morton Levinson absent from the meeting, Mayor Pete Muldoon did some quick math and agreed to entertain a motion to continue. “I’m ready to support this ordinance on the third reading but that doesn’t seem to be the will of this board right now,” he said.

The council voted 3-1, with Stanford opposed, to continue the plastic bag ban to the January 7 meeting when council-elect members Arne Jorgensen and Jonathan Schechter will be seated.

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