Fayetteville considers 10-cent charge on plastic and paper bags

FAYETTEVILLE – City officials hope a charge at the checkout will encourage shoppers to use their bags more than once.

City council will consider Tuesday to impose a 10-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags at grocery stores of at least 10,000 square feet. The move follows a council resolution in June to consider regulating hard-to-recycle shopping bags and single-use items.

In one look

• 10 cent fee assessed for paper and plastic checkout bags (does not include bags of produce or meat distributed in store prior to checkout).

• The retailer retains all of the fees, with a portion going to offset the costs associated with the bags, implementing the fees, and reporting the fees and sales of the bags to the city.

• The retailer must invest the balance of the costs in a community environmental benefit (reusable bags, waste cleaning program or recycling education).

• Single-use disposable bag charges apply to all food stores over 10,000 square feet. This would apply to all grocery stores, CVS, Walgreens, Target, and Walmart, but would not apply to small ethnic grocery stores, specialty grocery stores, hardware stores, department stores, or restaurants.

• Customers who purchase food with SNAP, Food Stamps, and WIC are exempt from paying fees.

• Retailers must provide quarterly bag sales numbers to the city.

• Signs will be required in stores.

Source: Fayetteville

Since then, staff members have studied policies in other cities and gathered feedback from residents and businesses through surveys and interviews.

Last fall, council reviewed the results of a poll posted July 7 to August 21 on the city’s website. Over 2,000 residents and 150 businesses responded.

Ninety-six percent of respondents said they supported reducing waste in city waterways and reducing waste in landfills. Sixty percent said they would accept a 10-cent charge on bags, and 58% said they would bring a reusable bag or use fewer disposable bags at checkout if a charge was in place.

The aim of the levy is to reduce the number of bags leaving a store, said Teresa Turk, a board member who sponsored the measure.

“I don’t want it to generate a lot of money, or really money,” she said. “If we weren’t raising money because people changed their behavior, that would be the ideal result.”


The retailer would keep and spend the expense money. The city will never touch it.

Some of the money would go towards the cost of shopping bags and the administration of the program. The rest of the money would be spent on “community environmental benefit”.

That means the money could help subsidize the cost to customers of reusable bags, or to help sponsor a community waste cleanup or pay for recycling education programs, according to the proposal.

Retailers would be required to report the number of plastic or paper bags distributed and the amount withdrawn from fees each quarter. They should also tell the city how much they spent on overhead and what environmental benefit they used that money for.

Keeping the money out of the city’s hands prevents it from being considered a tax, city attorney Kit Williams said. A charge offsets the cost of a service. A tax would be for the general use of the city and would require the approval of the voters.

Arkansas is stricter than most states when it comes to fees and taxes, Williams said.

The square footage requirement would apply the charge to large grocery stores such as Walmart, Harps, Walgreens, CVS, or Target. Convenience stores, ethnic grocery stores, hardware stores, liquor and dollar stores, and restaurants would be excluded.

Cashiers would add fees as well as taxes. Customers of automatic tills should enter the number of bags they have used. Customers using food stamps would be exempt.

Stores are also expected to display signs informing customers of the charges.

The city would like retailers to start reporting bag usage in October. The fees would be implemented from January 1. This way there would be a baseline to compare the number of bags leaving stores before and after the fee is implemented.

Retailer response

Charlie Spakes, president of the Arkansas Grocers and Retail Merchants Association, said grocers want to be good stewards of a community and do what cities ask for. He congratulated Fayetteville for having contacted the association and taken into account the point of view of the stores.

It’s best to allow stores to hold the fee, Spakes said. However, that won’t translate into a money generator, he said.

If putting a charge on bags was good for stores, they would have done it a long time ago, he said.

Grocers are concerned about the precedent the city’s proposal could set, Spakes said. Other cities, like Little Rock, are looking at what Fayetteville could do. The result could be different rules for different cities, which would pose a logistical problem for stores with multiple locations.

Officials in the city behind the proposal say stores could use the community benefit option as a positive marketing tool to showcase good deeds. Spakes said retailers such as Walmart are already investing in environmental programs, so any benefit to them in this regard would be minimal.

“It’s kind of like someone gives you lemons and you make lemonade out of them,” he said.

If passed, Fayetteville would be the first city to implement baggage fees in the state, Spakes said.

Walmart spokesperson Anne Hatfield said the company encourages customers to reuse the bags and has a variety of them for sale, including bags made from recycled materials. Customers can also return single-use plastic bags to more than half of stores in the United States for recycling, she said.

“We continue to have conversations with stakeholders on policies that support sustainability while serving our customers,” she said.

David Ganoung, vice president of marketing for Harps, said the company has spoken to city officials in recent months. He said he hopes the proposal will have a positive impact on the city, and that the company will work with the city to resolve any obstacles that may arise for stores.

“Operationally, this will require some adjustments to our initial procedures, and our goal is to do so without affecting the flow of the transaction to the ledger,” said Ganoung.

Good options?

Portland, Maine, with a population of approximately 67,000, implemented a similar ordinance in 2015. The city imposed a 5-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic bags and allowed stores to keep all the money without restrictions. The ordinance applied to grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, drugstores and vendors selling food, according to the city’s website. Restaurants and stores whose food represented less than 2% of gross sales were exempt.

The ordinance will become moot once Maine bans plastic bags statewide on April 22, Earth Day. In addition to banning plastic bags, paper bags will be charged 5 cents.

Portland was the first city in Maine to implement a tax on single-use bags, said Troy Moon, the city’s sustainability coordinator. More than 20 other cities in the state quickly followed with ordinances, each similar but not all identical.

This led to the state’s grocers association seeking uniform rules across the state, Moon said. The association, lawmakers and the State Natural Resources Council got together and worked on a state law.

Residents were receptive to the Portland ordinance, Moon said. Businesses were required to keep records of the purchase and sale of single-use bags for at least three years, but there were no periodic reporting requirements. However, the city could request the files whenever it wanted.

The 5-cent fee was intended to offset the cost of implementing the fee, Moon said. Portland considered a 10-cent fee with requirements to spend the money on the environment, like Fayetteville, but decided against the potential headache for the city and the stores to track and report the money.

“Ideally it’s a declining income. You have to administer it, and there’s an audit, so it was like, is it really worth it?” Moon said. “The purpose of the levy is to provide a small financial incentive to get people to bring their own bags.”

The charges worked, Moon said. Almost everyone in a city grocery store can now be seen with their own bags, he said.

“It made a huge difference,” Moon said.

Turk said the idea is to get shoppers to reuse their bags regardless of the type. Studies have shown that plastic, paper and reusable bags all have an effect on the environment.

Plastic bags generate less carbon emissions, but they don’t biodegrade.

According to a 2008 study by Natural Capitalism Solutions, a nonprofit environmental advisory group, a typical reusable bag requires the same amount of energy as 28 plastic bags. A study published the same year by the UK Environment Agency found that a person would have to use a cotton tote 131 times before it had less of an effect on climate change than a plastic bag. A 2011 research paper from the Northern Ireland Assembly found that it takes four times as much energy to make a paper bag than to make a plastic bag.

The key is reuse, Turk said. Take a plastic bag to the drop-off station for recycling which some stores have in advance if needed. Only new registrants would receive the fees.

“Whatever form it takes,” Turk said. “As long as you reuse, I think it’s a good shape.”

The council approved a ban on expanded polystyrene foam containers, commonly known as polystyrene, in November. The ban will apply to restaurants, cafes, food trucks and other food service providers from May 1.

News from the NW on 03/01/2020

Ethel J. Montes

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