City wants to reduce plastic and paper bags - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Convenience with a cost: Eau Claire examining ways to reduce bag use

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Eau Claire (WQOW) - Plastic bags are a cheap and simple way to get your groceries home, but they're starting to cause concern in Eau Claire because of the amount of waste they leave behind in landfills.

Take for example Gordy's County Market.  The grocery chain says it went through close to 11 million plastic bags last year.

The City of Eau Claire's sustainable bag committee is discussing to reduce the number of bags used in the future.

Paper or Plastic?

The city of Eau Claire is hoping to one day eliminate that question completely. 

"Bring more awareness to this issue, raise more awareness, education, participation," says Associate City Planner Ned Noel.

The sustainable bag committee has been tasked with the mission of reducing, reusing and recycling bags in the city.

"They're charged with recommending to the city council, some strategies in terms of what to do about that," says Noel.

So far the committee's focus has been on creating a fee and credit system, which would charge someone if they don't bring their own bag to the store and reward them if they do.

Similar programs are already in use at several area stores.

"We do offer 5 cents a bag for any bag people bring in to use.  The canvas bags, any paper bags like that," says Mega Foods assistant store manager Tim Laubach.

Stores also say they're seeing an uptick in sustainable awareness.

"We've seen a lot more usage out of the sustainable bags.  About six months ago to now we're seeing about 1,000 more of them used every month so it's a pretty hefty increase," says Laubach.

Outside of the store, the committee is considering implementing a broader pick up program to get more plastic bags out of the garbage and into the recycling stream.

"Currently in the city there's only one hauler that actually does this and they're the one that actually contracts with the material recovery facility in the Twin Cities," says Noel.

For those who can't recycle curbside stores also offer the option.

"At both our locations we have recycling available for any bags people want to bring in, we get those taken to the recycling place for them," says Laubach.

Taking a proactive approach to promote alternatives to paper and plastic.

Paper bags are eleven-cents each, plastic bags cost about a penny, that may not sound like much, but it adds up for stores like Gordy's, they spent around $110,000 on plastic bags last year. 

The sustainable bag committee will give its recommendations to the city council in October.  Here's an example of one idea being discussed:  The city could roll out a three-year program.  In the first year, shoppers would be encouraged to bring their own reusable bag to the store.  In year two, the store would offer a credit, perhaps a nickel off your bill if you use your own bag.  In year three, shoppers would face a possible penalty if they don't have a reusable bag.  

There are many questions about funding and enforcement, so keep in mind, these are only ideas being discussed right now.

There's been no indication the city would create a new fee to support the program, but even if it wanted to, a provision in the new state budget would create a hurdle.  The statute says anytime a municipality creates a new fee, it must reduce the levy by the same amount.

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