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Fargo commissioner hopes to spur plastic bag talks by spring, including possible ban

FARGO -- Before the snow melts and exposes a winter's worth of litter, City Commissioner John Strand wants Fargo to be talking about ways to reduce its use of plastic shopping bags.

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A plastic bag rests against the fence Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at the Fargo landfill. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO - Before the snow melts and exposes a winter's worth of litter, City Commissioner John Strand wants Fargo to be talking about ways to reduce its use of plastic shopping bags. While campaigning last spring, Strand floated the idea of a possible ban on plastic bags and non-biodegradable take-out food containers in order to curb waste and beautify the city. Strand, who's been in office since July, says he still would like Fargo to somehow encourage the use of re-useable shopping bags and earth-friendly food containers. "It might not be a ban. We might come up with alternative approaches that are incentive-driven," he said. "I'd rather have people do it because they choose to and want to." If Fargo were to ban plastic shopping bags, the city would join 130 U.S. cities that have done the same, including San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. The Minneapolis City Council passed a ban that takes effect in June, and a similar one was proposed last week in Duluth. Strand says the first step for Fargo is starting a community dialogue that brings together various parties, including grocery stores and other merchants, to see if the idea has any support. He said he will likely seek to create a task force to study what other municipalities have done. Mayor Tim Mahoney said he doesn't have a position on a ban, but he's in favor of the city hosting public hearings on single-use shopping bags. "If we want to reduce the paper pollution or plastic pollution, there's some things that can be looked at," he said. Mahoney said that if a ban is imposed, he would like it to have broad support. "If it's a small group that wants to do it, it's harder to sell that to the general public," he said. City Commissioner Tony Gehrig said he thinks the city has more important things to do than regulate the use of plastic bags, which he believes could increase costs for consumers. "The free market will dictate these things. If people don't want to use (plastic bags), they don't want to see them, then they'll go away," he said. Strand said he doesn't view the issue as one of government overreach. He said his goal is to find a way to decrease the use of plastic bags so that fewer of them end up stuck in trees, fences or elsewhere. "I think the government has lots of roles of affecting behaviors so that we don't do harm," he said.

A plastic bag rests against the fence Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at the Fargo landfill. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
A plastic bag rests against the fence Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at the Fargo landfill. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

A group called Bag It Duluth announced a campaign Thursday, Jan. 5, for a city ordinance there that would ban plastic shopping bags and carry-out polystyrene containers, the foam boxes some restaurants give out. The proposal, if adopted by the Duluth City Council, would also impose a minimum 5-cent fee on all paper bags distributed in the city. Strand said that while he supports reducing the use of paper bags, he's looking for ways to avoid punishing residents with a fee. In cities that have fees for paper bags, the money collected is usually kept by the retailer and not collected as a tax. Strand said he hopes to spur a conversation about plastic bags soon so that discussions are underway when city residents are seeing the bags and other trash that typically appears when the snow melts. Gehrig said he doesn't think Fargo has a litter problem. He believes the refuse that often accumulates in roadside ditches and empty lots in the spring is a result of the wind. "I really think that's the problem and not plastic bags," he said. No North Dakota cities have banned single-use plastic bags, and Minneapolis appears to be the only Minnesota city that's done so. California and Hawaii both have statewide bans on plastic bags. The entire country of France in September banned plastic shopping bags along with non-biodegradable plastic plates, cups and cutlery - all to start in 2020. And China instituted an all-out ban on plastic bags in 2008. Some local bag bans have been heralded as success stories, others not so much. In Los Angeles, a 10-cent bag tax imposed since 2011 has cut bag use dramatically. In Washington, D.C., a 2009 bag ban has led to a 50 percent reduction in single-use bags. But researchers in Austin, Texas, found that a 2013 bag ban led consumers to use thicker plastic garbage bags, which are just as polluting but not included in bans. Dallas rescinded its 5-cent bag fee after being sued by bag manufacturers. The Duluth News Tribune contributed to this report.FARGO - Before the snow melts and exposes a winter's worth of litter, City Commissioner John Strand wants Fargo to be talking about ways to reduce its use of plastic shopping bags.While campaigning last spring, Strand floated the idea of a possible ban on plastic bags and non-biodegradable take-out food containers in order to curb waste and beautify the city. Strand, who's been in office since July, says he still would like Fargo to somehow encourage the use of re-useable shopping bags and earth-friendly food containers."It might not be a ban. We might come up with alternative approaches that are incentive-driven," he said. "I'd rather have people do it because they choose to and want to."If Fargo were to ban plastic shopping bags, the city would join 130 U.S. cities that have done the same, including San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. The Minneapolis City Council passed a ban that takes effect in June, and a similar one was proposed last week in Duluth.Strand says the first step for Fargo is starting a community dialogue that brings together various parties, including grocery stores and other merchants, to see if the idea has any support. He said he will likely seek to create a task force to study what other municipalities have done.Mayor Tim Mahoney said he doesn't have a position on a ban, but he's in favor of the city hosting public hearings on single-use shopping bags. "If we want to reduce the paper pollution or plastic pollution, there's some things that can be looked at," he said.Mahoney said that if a ban is imposed, he would like it to have broad support. "If it's a small group that wants to do it, it's harder to sell that to the general public," he said.City Commissioner Tony Gehrig said he thinks the city has more important things to do than regulate the use of plastic bags, which he believes could increase costs for consumers. "The free market will dictate these things. If people don't want to use (plastic bags), they don't want to see them, then they'll go away," he said.Strand said he doesn't view the issue as one of government overreach. He said his goal is to find a way to decrease the use of plastic bags so that fewer of them end up stuck in trees, fences or elsewhere. "I think the government has lots of roles of affecting behaviors so that we don't do harm," he said.

A plastic bag rests against the fence Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at the Fargo landfill. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
A plastic bag rests against the fence Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, at the Fargo landfill. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

A group called Bag It Duluth announced a campaign Thursday, Jan. 5, for a city ordinance there that would ban plastic shopping bags and carry-out polystyrene containers, the foam boxes some restaurants give out. The proposal, if adopted by the Duluth City Council, would also impose a minimum 5-cent fee on all paper bags distributed in the city.Strand said that while he supports reducing the use of paper bags, he's looking for ways to avoid punishing residents with a fee. In cities that have fees for paper bags, the money collected is usually kept by the retailer and not collected as a tax.Strand said he hopes to spur a conversation about plastic bags soon so that discussions are underway when city residents are seeing the bags and other trash that typically appears when the snow melts.Gehrig said he doesn't think Fargo has a litter problem. He believes the refuse that often accumulates in roadside ditches and empty lots in the spring is a result of the wind. "I really think that's the problem and not plastic bags," he said.No North Dakota cities have banned single-use plastic bags, and Minneapolis appears to be the only Minnesota city that's done so. California and Hawaii both have statewide bans on plastic bags.The entire country of France in September banned plastic shopping bags along with non-biodegradable plastic plates, cups and cutlery - all to start in 2020. And China instituted an all-out ban on plastic bags in 2008.Some local bag bans have been heralded as success stories, others not so much. In Los Angeles, a 10-cent bag tax imposed since 2011 has cut bag use dramatically. In Washington, D.C., a 2009 bag ban has led to a 50 percent reduction in single-use bags.But researchers in Austin, Texas, found that a 2013 bag ban led consumers to use thicker plastic garbage bags, which are just as polluting but not included in bans. Dallas rescinded its 5-cent bag fee after being sued by bag manufacturers.The Duluth News Tribune contributed to this report.

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