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Austin Mayor On Plastic Bag Ban: “It Can Be Done”

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The plastic grocery bag has few friends at Austin’s City Hall. Council voted in July to move forward with a plan that would ban single-use plastic bags at local stores, putting Austin in the company of cities like San Francisco, Portland, San Jose, Washington, DC and even Brownsville, Texas.

But the specifics of the plan are still being ironed out. Next Monday, city officials hope to hear from you on how it should be done. They’re holding a public input session from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Austin Energy building.

KUT’s Matt Largey talked about it with Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell: I want to relieve anybody of the notion that we’re going to have the plastic bag police running around the City of Austin. We’re not going to do that. Any enforcement would be potentially directed at the retailer, not the customer.

KUT News: There’s an input meeting coming up next week. What kind of input are you looking for from the public.

Leffingwell: We’re calling this a town hall meeting. Monday night, 6 to 8. Anybody that’s got their ideas is going to be able to come forward and give us their ideas. I believe that will be the final part of the stakeholder process.

KUT News: So you want input on every aspect of this, to have far this ban would go to how it would be implemented and all that?

Leffingwell: Scope, timetable for phasing it in. And then exactly what the mechanisms are for how we do it and how it’s enforced and so forth.

I will tell you that I don’t have any preordained preferences. There’s nothing in my mind right now. Some people would say my mind is a blank. But I’m totally open to ideas and I think we need some good ideas, frankly, because we want to do it right.

KUT News: But at the same time, this is something you’ve been pushing for a while, so you must have some sense of where you’d like to see this go.

Leffingwell: I do. There’s a couple of things I don’t want to see, for example. I don’t want to get into the details because I want to keep an open mind. But I really am predisposed to being against something like a tax on bags, or a fee on bags, or something like that.

I’d much rather see, just to the maximum extent possible, just taking them out of circulation altogether.

KUT News: What do you say to people who are sort of attached to their plastic bags. They reuse them in their everyday lives. That would be a big adjustment for them to have to figure something else out.

Leffingwell: Obviously, you’re going to hear from a lot of people, and we already have heard from people who are attached to their plastic bags.

They use them for a lot of good things. They use them to pick up pet waste. They use them to line their various garbage cans in their homes and so forth, and those are all good uses.

But we got along without plastic bags for a very long time. I can actually remember a time in my lifetime when we didn’t have plastic bags at all. It can be done. It can be done. 

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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