JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Ordinance P (‘P’ for plastic bag ban) has been taking the slow route to third reading and into law. Jackson lawmakers have been talking about it for years, directed staff to draw it up in May 2018, and are only now headed to a second reading with it December 3. If passed, retailers will need to be in compliance a year from now.
A plastic bag will biodegrade faster.
The hold up hasn’t been a resistance against the law per se, but more of a double- and triple-checking for unintended consequences. Most everyone is on board with the waste reduction aspect of the proposed plastic bag ban, it’s the implementation, the cost and timing of which, that needs to be fair to all.
One sticking point is retailers do not come in a one-size fits all convenience. Monster chain grocers like Alberstons and Smiths, along with regional and local heavyweights Lucky’s and Whole Grocer, account for 80 to as much as 90 percent of plastic bag use in the county.
The volume they do and the responsibility they bear separates these larger retailers from smaller mom-and-pop shops like Wes Gardner’s Teton Toys. These smaller retailers don’t do the volume business so they are harder pressed to rid themselves of plastic bag inventory and make point-of-sale software changes to compute the new proposed 20-cent paper bag fee.
To their credit, Whole Grocer, Lucky’s and Smiths have already either shown a strong desire to comply with a plastic bag ban, or have taken their own steps to transitioning ahead of the ordinance.
Who gets the paper bag fee collected, what exactly will be considered a reusable plastic bag (it comes down to thickness), and when will the ordinance go into effect? Conclusive answers to these questions have eluded town councilors and slowed the process.
Paying for paper
Originally, the town had kicked around the idea of a 10-cent upcharge for using customers wishing to use paper bags or heavier plastic deemed reusable. The latest iteration of Ordinance P has the fee at 20 cents with the retailer and town splitting that 50-50, each entity getting a dime out of every transaction. The town would then funnel the funds to ISWR (Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling).
Point-of-sale arithmetic headaches were alleviated to some degree with late news that the Wyoming Department of Revenue calls the fee a ‘taxable event’ along with the actual sale price.
Ordinance P is in the bag
Another tweak to the ordinance made at the ‘second’ first reading on November 19 was to increase the thickness in what the town will consider a single-use bag. Previously, the town was happy with the standard 2.25 mil thickness that most municipalities across the country use. At the regular meeting of the town council on November 14, electeds decided to beef up the ban by eliminating all plastic bags thinner than 4 mil.
A 2.25 mil thick plastic bag is considered the cheapest legal reusable bag. For those keeping score, the industry standard 2.25 mil plastic bag is defined as one capable of enduring up to 125 uses and carrying 22 lbs. over a distance of 175 feet. Research indicates these bags are affordable for businesses to provide, but that consumers tend not to reuse them.
The trend now, said Assistant Public Works Director Johnny Ziem, who has been spearheading the ordinance, is to be bold and consider anything under 4 mils as too cheap and flimsy to be reusable.
The council also debated how long to give retailers to implement the new policy. Smaller retailers complained it might take them a year or more to use all the plastic bags they have now whereas Smiths, for instance, could run out in weeks if they went cold turkey.
Most retailers also wanted to be able to report their transactions less often—quarterly rather than monthly. Town leaders said that was acceptable.
The ordinance would take effect for grocers and large retailers on April 15, 2019. All other retailers would have until November 1, 2019 to be in compliance.
How they voted
Councilman Bob Lenz said he is in support of the ordinance but has strong reservations about how it will negatively impact smaller, local stores. He wanted a plastic bag ban on the larger chain grocery and convenience stores only.
“I say, ‘don’t try to eat the whole turkey at once.’ The simpler the better and this is anything but simple,” Lenz complained.
Don Frank was in support, especially backing the 20-cent fee and 50-50 split.
“We as a community are making a commitment to be a leaders in sustainability,” Frank said. “It’s one thing to ask retailer to come along with us, but the ISWR is the change agent. They are the group asked to educate the public. And we need to give them the tools to help disseminate to visitors and locals as to why this matters. We need to give them the funds to do it.”
Ordinance P unanimously passed first reading at the November 19 meeting. A second reading is scheduled for the council’s next meeting on December 3.