DULUTH – Residents here could be the next group of shoppers to pay if they want to use paper or plastic bags.
Following the lead of other cities and states, City Council member Em Westerlund on Monday moved to require retail establishments to charge 5 cents for single-use bags.
The hope is to reduce the cost of litter cleanup and waste disposal while also encouraging residents to bring reusable bags to the store. Dozens showed up to the council meeting in support of the ordinance, calling for urgent action for the sake of combating global climate change.
Monday’s public hearing was the first step; the council could vote next month.
“We just can’t educate our way out of this anymore,” said Jamie Harvie, coordinator of the Bag It Duluth campaign, a coalition of individuals and organizations advocating for the local policy changes that promote zero-waste strategies. “We have to really start shifting behavior.”
The 5 cents would be collected and kept by stores in Duluth to offset the cost of bags, and a record of charges would have to be shown on receipts. Fines could be imposed on retailers that provide bags without charging a nickel.
The proposed ordinance would provide a number of exemptions, including cases where bags are used to keep produce and meat separate, carry prescription drugs or takeout foods, or protect products like newspapers and dry cleaning. It also creates an exception for low-income residents by waiving the charge for those purchasing goods using funds from the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance and Women, Infants & Children programs.
At Monday’s meeting, a high school senior called for the protection of her hometown’s rolling hills and Lake Superior. Two local retail managers said bring-your-own-bag programs they’ve implemented have been good for business.
In all, almost 20 people asked council members to adopt the measure. No one at the meeting spoke out against the ordinance, though a few people expressed disapproval earlier to City Council members, arguing elected officials would be better off focusing on anti-littering campaigns.
Duluth’s discussions come in the wake of similar efforts made by local governments across the country — in some cases, in major metropolitan areas, like Chicago and Washington, D.C. — to promote eco-friendly habits.
In 2017, Minneapolis’ City Council considered a similar ordinance that would have attached a 5-cent fee to shopping bags. Council members ultimately declined to vote on the matter, citing concerns from residents and small-business owners.
A pay-for-bags movement in Duluth that same year was put on hold while organizers worked for more support.
Since then, Bag It Duluth has studied legislation and earned the support of 2,000 individuals and 120 businesses.
With its proximity to Lake Superior and reputation as a major destination for Minnesotans seeking time outdoors, Harvie said he thinks the city has a special opportunity and responsibility to take an environmental stand.
“While we may no longer lead nationally, we can still lead in Minnesota,” he said at Monday’s meeting.