Duluth May Bag Plastic Bag Fee with Coronavirus Concerns Over Recycled Sacks

It’s not too late for the Duluth City Council to reverse course and rescind the 5 cent plastic bag charge set to take effect, appropriately, on April Fool’s Day. The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed another case of environmental overreach by elected officials that poses a potential threat to public health by pressing consumers to reuse fabric bags susceptible to spreading the virus.

But now councilors are having second thoughts, scrambling to backtrack by delaying the fee for several months, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

A proposal to postpone a 5-cent fee on nearly every plastic shopping bag distributed in Duluth has reopened debate on the wisdom of the charge.

At a Thursday night Duluth City Council agenda session, 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress introduced a resolution to delay the April 1 date that a city ordinance mandating the fee is slated to go into effect. Sipress now proposes pushing back implementation of the fee requirement until July 1 due to concerns he said were raised by the Minnesota Grocers Association “in light of the current public health emergency and the incredible stress and strain on grocery store workers.”

Related: Plastic Bags Save Lives, So Why Are Environmentalists Trying to Ban Them? 

Yet other members want to reconsider the controversial issue altogether, due not only to public health concerns but also the economic impact in the midst of a serious downturn.

…Newly elected at large Councilor Derek Medved questioned the very notion of charging Duluth shoppers a nickel for every plastic shopping bag they receive during a time of economic upheaval.

As the owner of a chain of convenience stores, Medved said he stands to profit from the bag fee, which retailers will be allowed to pocket. But he spoke out strongly against the policy, saying: “The unfortunate thing is we have people in our community who are filing for unemployment. We have people who count pennies every day to afford ramen noodles or a bar of soap.”

Medved went on to recount how a father of three shoplifted an 89-cent bar of soap from one of his stores the previous day because he couldn’t afford to buy it.

Related: Banned Drive-Thrus Now Embraced by Minneapolis Mayor Frey in  Coronavirus Crisis

Medved wants to delay implementation for two years and revisit the concept only after ordinary life resumes for most people.

“If we think that we’re going to implement this, I’m so far against, and I’m very passionate about it,” Medved said. “I will fight this until the end of time. Charging 5 cents, a penny, a dollar, whatever it may be, is not the solution. We are facing a huge issue, a pandemic. People are losing their jobs, and it hits home for me, because my mother raised my sister and I on pennies. Every penny counted. We don’t know the individual impact this has on families, residents, neighbors. That’s not fair.”

Even in the midst of a public health crisis, however, die-hard enviros on the city council find it hard to admit they’re wrong.

At large Councilor Barb Russ told Medved he was free to do as he sees fit but noted the bag ordinance was the product of considerable work. The ordinance calls for the fee to be waived for anyone enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or receiving Women Infants and Children benefits.

“We spent many, many, many, many hours in discussions with full chambers of people out there wanting us to do this,” she said.

Elected officials  don’t often have the opportunity to correct a mistaken policy before its unintended consequences are felt. The city council should jump at the chance not just to delay but bag the fee once and for all.