This article will be published in the Teton Valley News on March 3, 2016. It is republished with permission.
You may see them blowing in the wind or caught on fences and vegetation. Discarded plastic bags and other single-use products are a common sight along roadways and open spaces. Though a modern-day convenience, not many of us think about the down-sides of plastic bags, especially how lethal they are for wildlife that ingest or get tangled in them. Plastic also doesn’t decompose; instead, it breaks down into tiny pieces that pollute our soil and water and enter the food web when animals inadvertently eat them. Although some communities (though none in Idaho) have passed laws banning plastic bags, it seems that our state legislators are adamant that no Idaho cities or counties should have the right for self-determination by instilling such a ban.
Recently, the Idaho state House of Representatives passed Bill 372 on a party-line vote of 52-17 to make it illegal for towns to ban or tax plastic bags, Styrofoam or other disposable containers. The bill now moves onto the Senate for approval. If approved, local officials would need permission from the Idaho Legislature to enact any sort of plastic bag ban. While there currently are no Idaho cities that enforce plastic bag bans, a couple of Idaho communities have voted on plastic bag bans in the past. It is TVCR’s position that local municipalities and their voters should decide whether or not to ban plastic bags. We also encourage waste reduction foremost and for individuals to bring his/her own reusable bags when shopping. The sponsor of HB 372, Rep. Clark Kauffman (R-Filer) noted that the state mandates regulations on water quality, tax policy, and timber, and that “there’s certain things we believe should happen at the state level.” Of note, Rep. Kauffman’s legislative district includes the plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly Co located in Jerome, ID. Sen. Jim Patrick (R-Twin Falls) is sponsoring the senate bill (Hilex Poly Co is also located in his district).
The Board of the Association of Idaho Cities disagrees with Kauffman and opposes the bill; they believe that local municipalities know what is best for them, and therefore, should hold onto their power to ban or regulate plastic bags.
While plastic bags can and should be recycled, it is more difficult to recycle plastic bags than other materials, especially in a rural state like Idaho. Plus, most stores that dole out plastic bags do not have plastic bag recycling (Broulim’s Fresh Foods Supermarket in Driggs is the exception and has plastic bag recycling receptacles next to the entrance). Plastic bags are a low-grade plastic with less economic value than, for instance, a #1 or #2 plastic bottle. Further, for some Idaho communities, trash and recycling must be shipped far distances and sometimes even out of state (Teton County, ID ships our garbage to the Circular Butte Landfill, located 50+ miles away in Jefferson County; our recyclables are also shipped away to various locations depending on the buyer, but processing costs for recycling are still far less than landfill-bound waste). Your taxpayer dollars cover these shipping and processing costs, as well as the costs to cover litter issues. Perhaps it is more fiscally responsible to lower your solid waste taxes by leveeing fees on plastic bags and other single-use products in order to cover the high costs of litter and trash disposal. This fee would create an incentive to reduce garbage and litter in the first place.
If you agree that this short-sited bill violates the principle of local control and that local municipalities should retain their own sovereignty over whether or not to ban plastic bags and other single-use products, please contact our local senator for Teton County, Mark Harris (District 32, R-Soda Springs) at (208) 547-3360 and respectfully urge him to oppose HB 372.
An email can also be sent through an online form at: https://legislature.idaho.gov/about/contactbydistrict.cfm.
Jen Werlin is the Executive Director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information about waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, and/or to become involved with our community-wide efforts to reduce litter and landfill waste, please visit tetonrecycling.org.