The Texas Supreme Court struck down the City of Laredo’s ban on plastic bags, in a decision likely to overturn similar ordinances in nearly a dozen other Texas municipalities.
In a unanimous ruling on June 22, the state Supreme Court found local government laws preventing retailers from providing so-called single-use plastic bags to customers were clearly prohibited by state law.
The 1989 Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act states local governments may not “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 plain meaning of a “container” includes bags, the court ruled.
A 2014 nonbinding opinion from then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott advised the act prohibited bag bans.
Intentions Ruled Irrelevant
Laredo claimed its 2014 ban was intended to control litter, reduce maintenance costs for the city’s storm-water drainage system, and prevent flooding from blocked drains, goals which the city argued fall within its authority.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht’s opinion for the court found the ordinance had the effect of managing solid waste and thus fell under the state law regardless of the city’s claimed purpose.
Other Texas cities that have banned or imposed fees on plastic bags are Eagle Pass, Corpus Christi, Port Aransas, Kermit, Sunset Valley, Austin, Freer, Laguna Vista, South Padre Island, Brownsville, and Fort Stockton.
H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says he has found little to no evidence bag bans reduce municipal waste or save cities money.
“Nationally, plastic bags constitute no more than 1 percent to 2 percent of all litter, not being one of the top 10 sources of litter nationwide,” Burnett said. “Cities which ban plastic bags save no money, but they do increase pollution and waste energy because plastic bag alternatives produce more waste and use more energy during their manufacture.”
Going Where the Bags Are
Plastic bag bans don’t have much effect on waste because many shoppers simply take their business to nearby areas that still give out plastic bags, says Pamela Villarreal, associate director of the Colloquium for the Advancement of Free-Enterprise Education at the University of Texas at Dallas and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute.
“Many consumers value the convenience of plastic bags, which they reuse for other purposes, and balk at the cost of reusable bags,” said Villarreal. “Bag bans displace commerce, with stores affected by the ban seeing reduced sales and lower employment, while stores outside ban areas see increased sales and employment.”
Villarreal says the court’s ruling is good for the public.
“The Texas Supreme Court ruling will benefit retailers and consumers by giving them choices,” Villarreal said. “Consumers who think plastic bags harm the environment will still be able to continue not using them, but retailers will be able to craft their own policy according to the wants and needs of their shoppers.”
Joe Barnett ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.
H. Sterling Burnett, “Do Bans On Plastic Grocery Bags Save Cities Money?” National Center for Policy Analysis, December 2013: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/do-bans-on-plastic-grocery-bags-save-cities-money
“The Truth About Plastic Bags,” Bag the Ban, January 31, 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-truth-about-plastic-bags