y Sarah Coppola
Updated: 12:11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 5, 2011
Published: 11:07 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011
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The Austin City Council took a first step late Thursday toward banning plastic bags at retail and grocery store checkouts.
The council voted unanimously to direct city staffers to begin writing a ban with the help of retailers, environmental groups and others. The ban and a plan to gradually phase it in will be presented to the council by November .
Council members also asked staffers to gather information about a possible ban on paper bags, as well as plastic ones, and about possibly charging fees for so-called single-use bags instead of banning them outright.
Details such as whether small stores should be exempt and the penalties for not complying with a ban will be worked out during the four-month process.
Austin would be the first large Texas city to enact such a ban; Brownsville already has one.
Council members say plastic bags are an environmental scourge - polluting waterways, clogging drainage systems and taking up landfill space, where they don't biodegrade.
Austinites use 263 million plastic bags a year, and they cost the city and taxpayers about $850,000 a year to clean up as litter and put in landfills, according to city estimates.
A voluntary effort by large Austin retailers, including Walmart and Target, to cut plastic bag use was not effective enough, city officials have said.
On Thursday , the nonprofit Texas Campaign for the Environment called on the city to ban both plastic and paper bags, saying that would achieve the larger goal of helping consumers get in the habit of using reusable bags instead of single-use bags.
Mark Daniels , vice president of sustainability at Hilex , a large manufacturer and recycler of plastic bags with locations in the Dallas area and across the country, said Thursday that the bags pose no environmental threat because they are fully reusable and recyclable.
A ban would put at risk the nearly 9,000 jobs in Texas that are involved in producing, recycling and transporting the bags, Daniels said.
There is also no evidence that plastic bags kill wildlife or are an exceptionally large source of litter, he said.
A plastic bag ban would compel consumers to begin using more paper bags, which require more energy and fuel to produce and transport than plastic bags, Daniels said.
The ban, he said, "would just not be good public policy."