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Bagism: Texas retailers sue city of Austin over ban

By   /   February 26, 2013  /   News  /   2 Comments

By Mark Lisheron | Watchdog.org

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BAG BAN: The Texas Retailers Association is suing the city of Austin over its ban on plastic grocery bags.

AUSTIN – Feel free to add legal costs to the $2 million promotional campaign, serious illness, artificially inflated cleanup costs, the costs of reusable grocery bags and the $1 charge at the grocery store if you forget them.

Just in time for the city of Austin’s ban on plastic grocery bags to kick in on March 1, the Texas Retailers Association is suing the city for what it contends is a city ordinance in violation of state law.

The suit, filed Monday in Travis County District Court, says the ordinance violates Section 361.0961 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, which says, “A local government or other political subdivision may not adopt an ordinance, rule, or regulation to prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.”

The suit goes on to say that consumers have a reasonable expectation that when they buy something, or many things, from retailers they will be provided packaging with which to carry home those things.

The Austin City Council, under the cloak of darkness last March 2, revolutionized that expectation.

In addition to making it a crime for a retailer to knowingly provide the societally unacceptable merchandise conveyors to customers, the Council thought city taxpayers might like to contribute $2 million to explain why this was such a good idea.

The result of this investment is, “Bring It,” a plurally-challenged slogan meaning to have any hope of getting your groceries home you better “bring them,” meaning your own grocery bags.

Concerned this slogan might be misinterpreted or ignored entirely, part of the $2 million was set aside to give away reusable grocery bags in low-income parts of the city.

In an effort to provide the most up-to-the-moment coverage of the ban, I have for the past several weeks gone undercover dressed as an ordinary customer to my local H-E-B grocery store in southwest Austin.

Clerks at the store have been handing out fliers explaining the upcoming plastic bag ban and their willingness to provide customers who forget with bags at a cost of $1 a transaction.

The last two visits, the store has provided, free of charge, a thick reusable plastic bag with its own slogan, “Helping You Carry The Load.”

Grocery stores are also happy, without much choice, to sell you reusable grocery bags in a stunning array of colors and designs.

None of the very upbeat informational material includes warnings to shoppers that unless they wash their reusable grocery bags they might well become incubators for disease inducing norovirus or coliform bacteria.

The cost and environmental impact of all this washing was not factored into the cost of enacting the bag ban. Factored into the cost of removing plastic bags from the waste stream, however, was an estimate mistakenly inflated by more than three-and-a-half times.

No matter the cost when a community good is being done.

Bill Cobb, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, told Watchdog.org this afternoon he sincerely hoped the lawsuit might prevent any more good from being done.

Contact Mark Lisheron at [email protected] or at 512-299-2318. On Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.


Mark Lisheron was a former Austin-based reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • Sandy

    The campaign was actually only $850,000, not $2 mil. Check your facts please! http://www.statesman.com/news/news/austin-unveils-bag-ban-ad-campaign/nWWRT/

  • Mark Lisheron

    Yes, the fact was when we originally reported on the bag ban, Austin Resource Recovery asked the City Council for $2 million. The council granted them $850,000 of it for the first year. They will be asking for more.