Update: The ordinance amending Anchorage Municipal Code Sections 14.60.030
and 15.95.020 – to enact a sunset date for the requirement to charge a fee for providing an alternative bag – failed, with three ‘yes’ votes and eight ‘no’ votes.
Today, May 19, a proposed ordinance will go before the Anchorage Assembly to permanently remove the mandatory per-bag fee which stores are required to charge customers for store-provided paper bags. The bag fee, which is currently optional due to COVID-19, could be removed entirely, permanently reducing the burden of extra fees on consumers who have no other alternative. Since plastic bags are banned, and reusable bags have concerning health implications, conscientious consumers currently have no other choice but to pay between 10 and 50 cents per paper bag to carry out their groceries – unless the ordinance passes, and the bag fee is removed.
The ordinance would remove the requirement, put into effect on September 15, 2019, that stores charge at least 10 cents, and up to 50 cents, for each paper bag their customers use. The fee was developed to discourage using disposable bags and incentivize shoppers to bring reusable bags, which are actually worse both for the consumer’s health and the environment than plastic bags are.
Plastic bags have been shown to harbor fewer bacteria and viruses as compared to reusable bags, which are almost never washed and spread germs around grocery stores. As evidenced by the fact that Mayor Ethan Berkowitz temporarily suspended the bag fee on March 25 due to concerns that COVID-19 could spread through reusable bag surfaces in grocery stores, the plastic bag ban and its associated fees have been, and should be, disregarded when the health of Alaskans is concerned.
Though repealing Anchorage’s bag ban in its entirety and allowing stores to provide plastic bags at no cost is the ideal solution, removing the burdensome requirement that stores charge at least 10 cents per bag helps grocery stores be competitive and protect the health of their customers. This is unmistakably a step in the right direction toward preserving the right of Alaskans to choose, free of coercion, the option which fits their lifestyles the best.
For those who are concerned about the cleanliness of reusable bags and don’t want to use them in order to avoid the paper bag fee, the passing of this ordinance would help them save money – as well as protect their health. Stores, if this ordinance passes, would no longer be forced to charge for paper bags simply to incentivize reusable alternatives; they would be able to provide convenient paper bags for their customers and make their own business decisions regarding their policies toward reusable bags. And the passing of this ordinance would be a breath of fresh air for those Alaskans struggling to make every penny count in these difficult times. Let us hope this is only the first step toward repealing Anchorage’s plastic bag ban entirely!