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Legislation introduced to lift Michigan's ban on local plastic bag bans

a person walking on a stone street, seen from the legs down. They're wearing blue jeans and sneakers and holding a plastic bag full of oranges.

In 2016, then-Governor Rick Snyder signed a law to ban local governments in Michigan from banning plastic bags. Now, new legislation has been filed to repeal that measure.

“What this repeal does is makes it possible for local communities to make a decision about whether or not they want to regulate plastic bags and other plastic single-use containers,” said Senator Sue Shink (D-Northfield Township), who sponsored the legislation.

Shink said local governments have to deal with the costs of plastics that are not disposed of properly.

“If there are plastic bags that can’t be recycled or get stuck in the wastewater treatment plant or just littering the side of the road, it’s local government, the people who are there to clean up the mess,” she said.

Some plastics can be recycled, but many cannot. At one point, China accepted much of U.S. plastic trash, but that market has been closed.

An increasing amount of plastics is polluting the Great Lakes and and breaking down into microscopic pieces. Plastic microfibers are getting into drinking water.

Opponents say a local plastic bag and container ban would be a hardship on businesses and people.

“There is a tremendous impact on not just your typical retailer but also restaurants, and there is significant impact on consumers,” said Andrea Bitely with the Michigan Retailers Association.

She said COVID forced many restaurants to find the correct containers to deliver food. It would have a great impact on them if they had to use something that would not allow their food to travel as well.

She also said the ban would be a hardship for people who cannot afford to buy canvas bags to bring to stores or to purchase them on site.

With different local governments having different laws, Bitely said you wouldn’t know whether to bring bags or not if you were traveling in Michigan.

“We’re essentially creating 82 different version of retail in the state of Michigan that will impact consumers and retailers.”

The ban on local bans was passed because Washtenaw County was ready to implement a plastic bag ban.

Senator Shink’s news release quoted an Ann Arbor official who indicated plastic bans are needed.

“Plastic pollution is disastrous to human, animal, and ecosystem health and nearly all plastic is not actually recyclable. Moreover, we know that most plastic bags, for example, end up in landfills or directly polluting Michigan’s beautiful rivers, forests, and other iconic landscapes,” said Missy Stults, sustainability and innovations director with the city of Ann Arbor.

Prior to 1979, single-use plastic shopping bags were not used in the U.S. Retailers and grocery stores used paper shopping bags.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report and previously hosted Stateside on Fridays. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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