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Bill prohibiting cities from enacting plastic bag bans poised for Senate debate

By   /   February 29, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

MADISON, Wis. – Paper or plastic?

A bill that would ban local bans on plastic bags and other “auxiliary containers” appears poised for passage during the state Senate’s last floor day, slated for March 15.

Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, the bill’s co-sponsor, said he expects the Committee on Elections and Local Government, will approve the Senate version of the bill this week.

The Assembly passed the legislation Feb. 16 on a party-line 63-35 vote.

“Banning these everyday products, whether it is the sleeve for your morning coffee, the take-out container you bring home after a dinner out or the bag you bring your groceries home in only serves to hurt consumers,” Roth told Wisconsin Watchdog.

He and the bill’s Assembly sponsor Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, say such bans popping up across the country would also hurt Wisconsin’s economy, particularly the packaging industry.

Photo by nationofchange.org

BAN THE BAG BANS: A bill moving its way through the Wisconsin Legislature would prohibit local regulation of ‘auxiliary containers,’ which includes paper and plastic bags, cardboard, corrugated material, plastic and other packaging used to transport or protect merchandise, food or beverages.

Rohrkaste said he can speak from first-hand experience as a former executive with packager Menasha Corp. He said the patchwork of different municipal laws would drive up production costs, ultimately hitting the consumer.

“We provided packaging to a lot of consumer goods companies. If we would have been required to do different packaging in one part of the state compared to another, that would have increased costs,” the lawmaker said. “Is that the right thing to do, particularly when these products can be recycled?”

“We just didn’t want to see unnecessary local legislation that could hurt a bunch of residents of the state of Wisconsin,” Rohrkaste added.

The legislation has the backing of some powerful industry players, including the Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers, LLC,  Midwest Food Processors Association Inc., Wisconsin Beverage Association, Wisconsin Grocers Association, Wisconsin Independent Businesses Inc., Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Paper Council, Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association, and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

Proponents of  plastic bag and other auxiliary container bans insist that limiting or eliminating their use makes good sense for the environment, inundated by plastic bottles, bowls and bags.

Two years ago, Stoughton, Wis., debated whether to become the first municipality in Wisconsin to restrict the use of plastic grocery bags.

RELATED: Plastic shopping bags are free and legal in Wisconsin town, for now

Prompted by a letter from resident Jill Izydor, who said she wanted to do something good for the environment, Mayor Donna Olson asked the city council to open up a “discussion and possible action” on implementing the ban of single-use plastic bags.

“My thoughts are, the greener we make our city, the more desirable it will be in terms of a place to visit, live and own a business,” Izydor wrote in the letter.

The idea went nowhere. A Stoughton official told Wisconsin Watchdog the city wanted to do more research before bringing the proposal to a vote. It appears the research continues.

A few months later, in August 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. The law took effect in July 2015.

A bag ban in liberal Austin, Texas, in 2013 found environmental idealism colliding with consumer preference and unintended consequences.

A report last June by the Austin Resource Recovery Group found that while the ban succeeded in lowering the amount of single-use plastic bags made from high-density polyethylene in city landfills, it turned out worse for the environment, according to a story by CNSNews.com.

“The amount of single use plastic bags has been reduced, both in count and by weight,” the Austin report stated. “However, in their place, the larger 4 mil (4/1,000ths of an inch) bags have replaced them as the go to standard when the reusable bag is left at home. This reusable plastic bag, along with the paper bag, has a very high carbon footprint compared to the single use bag.”

The reusable bags are often made from non-recycled low-density polyethylene and require more resources to manufacture than the single-use bags, the report noted. “Many of the heavier gauge 4 mil bags are also shipped from overseas, which increases their carbon footprint compared to the single-use bags,” according to CNS News.

Arizona’s Legislature passed a bill last year preventing cities and counties from taxing or banning plastic bags, Styrofoam and other containers used in grocery or retail stores. That law was almost immediately taken to court by the city of Tempe, Ariz., charging that the measure takes away local control.

The Indiana state Senate recently passed a bill similar to Wisconsin’s proposal.

The Wisconsin Senate version of the bill prohibiting auxiliary container bans includes an amendment that allows for the continuation of “effective recycling programs,” already laid out in state statute.

Roth said employers in the Fox Valley are experts in taking recyclable products and repurposing them.

“Instead of feel-good measures that have failed time and again around the country, we should be encouraging consumers to recycle and companies to find new and innovative ways to use these materials,” the senator said.


M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.