Duluth Council Packed for 5-Cent Charge Ordinance for Single-Use Bags

Dozens speak in support of the ordinance, no one speaks against.

DULUTH, Minn.- A potential new ordinance in Duluth could mean that for every paper or plastic bag you use from a store, you’re charged an extra five cents.

The proposal is got its first read at Monday night’s City Council meeting, with residents sharing how they feel about it during public comments. They could vote on the ordinance at their next meeting if no amendments are proposed, and it would go into effect on January 1, 2020.

At the meeting, dozens of people spoke in support of the fee, the common message being environmental concerns, and how overdue they say the ordinance is.

“Two and a half years ago I testified in front of this City Council with the same committee and the same intention,” began High School Student Sophie Williams.¬†“Two and a half years ago I had faith that changes would be made in an effort to cut down the amount of plastic Duluthians consume on a daily basis.”

“Two and half years later I still see plastic bags tumbling down the streets. I still see plastic bags caught in trees and I still find plastic bags in Lake Superior.”

The ordinance would apply to all retail establishments such as grocery stores, clothing boutiques and more.

It would exclude bags used to transport take-out food, bags from pharmacists, and bags for produce and meats.

The retailers would keep the five cents per bag to offset the cost of providing bags. Customers on SNAP or WIC benefits would be excluded.

Whole-Foods Co-Op is one grocery store in Duluth which doesn’t have plastic bags at their checkouts, just paper. A representative from the business came to the council meeting to voice their support for the ordinance.

“Other local grocery stores either don’t have or they already charge for bags so this isn’t something entirely new for our community,” said Hillary Heinz, Marketing Manager for the Co-op. “It’ll definitely be an adjustment but our community has made this work.”

Almost everyone at the meeting sported a Bag It Duluth sticker, the campaign strongest against the use of single-use plastic bags.

“Duluth will be following the lead of 400 cities across the country,” Bag It Duluth Coordinator Jamie Harvie said. “We all want to make the right choice but we often forget. People go to the ends of the Earth to avoid paying 5 cents for a single use bag.”

After a bit of a transition single-use bags will phase out, Harvie said.

“Typically what happens is there’s a week or two where people have to, they’re reminded each time they go to the store and then it just becomes part of their natural behavior.”

The ordinance states that any retail establishment found in violation would face a $100 fine, then a $200 fine for the second violation, followed by $500 for the third.

In addition to encouraging use of reusable bags, the ordinance does say you can bring your own single use paper or plastic bags from home without being charged.

Meanwhile on Facebook we asked what people thought of the potential bag fee.

Rob Stenberg, President of Duluth BizPac, said: “Waste of time and where is this on the priority scale for this city? More anti-business ordinances from this City Council that drives businesses away.”

“I don’t understand it and I don’t think it is right,” said Marvin Johnson. “The retailer uses these bags to help customers. Maybe the retailer should change the bags they offer.”

And finally, Josh Blankenship said “more big government. Stay out of private business and fix the roads.”

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