On June 1, Minneapolis’ new bag ordinance takes effect throughout the city, forbidding all retail establishments from providing single-use plastic bags to customers. Instead, shoppers are expected to either bring their own bag or pay at least 5 cents for a paper or store-provided reusable bag.
The ordinance, like hundreds of others throughout the U.S.—primarily in liberal-minded cities along the East and West coasts—is meant to reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in trees, streets and parks. When Minneapolitans do throw them away, they end up incinerated at the downtown garbage burner. City officials note that Minnesotans throw away more than 87,000 tons of plastic bags every year (though the city’s share is a fraction of that).
But will a ban limited to one community work? Minneapolis officials tout the results in Seattle, which implemented a ban in 2012. By the end of the year, the city’s director of solid waste planning and program management estimated it reduced plastic bag waste by at least 58 percent.
In 2006, the Scottish government studied the impacts of bag fees under several different scenarios. When plastic bags came with a fee but paper bags did not, the total amount of bag waste increased by 5,400 tons.
Minneapolis is the first city in the state to implement a bag ban, but it isn’t the only one that’s looked into the idea. St. Louis Park conducted a study in 2014 on the impacts of single-use bags. However, after 20 months of examining the issue, the City Council ultimately opted against any ban.
Mayor Jake Spano says he initially supported a bag ban, but his stance changed after learning that they don’t make a particularly large impact on waste and sustainability. “Plastic bags are a nuisance . . . [a ban] feels good, but it might not be the thing you should be focused on.”
Instead SLP implemented a “zero waste packaging ordinance” that requires food establishments to serve items in reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging.
Minneapolis’s success could hinge on enforcement, which is in limbo. The ordinance provides authority to several city departments but doesn’t spell out a process. “There won’t be one person per se overseeing the ban,” says city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. —Andre Eggert