In late August, the Anchorage Assembly moved to ban plastic bags at stores across the municipality, beginning in March of 2019. Assembly members did so out of a desire to prevent waste and litter, an admirable goal. But in their haste to act on that goal, they unwittingly created a significant amount of waste themselves — and, in doing so, caused financial hardship for some local businesses.
The problem, which emerged shortly after the Assembly passed its ban, is that some businesses have a considerable supply of bags already on hand — in some cases, far more than they can run through between now and March. Those businesses, which often rely on purchases by visitors to the state, will have far less business between now and the spring. They have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars worth of bags still in their inventory. As anyone who has operated a small business knows, it's not often easy to write off a loss of hundreds or thousands of dollars.
This issue hasn't occurred in other locations, such as Wasilla, that have instituted bag bans. That's because Anchorage's bag ban is more all-encompassing than most. In other communities that have banned single-use plastic bags, exceptions have often been carved out for thicker, gift-shop style bags or for businesses that go through fewer bags than large retail and grocery stores. In Wasilla, for instance, plastic bags heavier than 2.25 mils are still permitted, for a 10-cent fee.
Debate between those in favor of the bag ban and opponents has continued since the measure passed. Proponents point to the wastefulness of single-use plastic, its failure to biodegrade and its tendency to wind up as litter. Opponents say the ban is likely to be more nuisance than public service, depriving residents of versatile containers that are often reused to gather recyclables and clean up pet waste.
But whatever your thoughts on the overall worth of the bag ban, it's not fair to saddle small-business owners with the prospect of writing off inventory they've already purchased and won't be able to use before the deadline. The Assembly, as a gesture of goodwill and a nod to common sense, should allow businesses to exhaust their existing bag inventory. Otherwise, those businesses will have to send their masses of unused plastic bags to the landfill, running directly counter to the measure's goal of reducing waste.
After all, even the most ardent proponents of the ban can agree that the one thing more wasteful than single-use plastic is zero-use plastic.
The views expressed here are those of the Anchorage Daily News, as expressed by its editorial board, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. Current editorial board members are Ryan Binkley, Andy Pennington, Julia O'Malley, Tom Hewitt and Andrew Jensen. To submit a piece for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to email@example.com or click here to submit via any web browser.