Duluth to impose plastic bag tax on some businesses while exempting others

One of the few positives to come out of Duluth’s response to COVID-19 was the postponement of the city’s tax on plastic bags penalizing businesses and consumers for their complicity in perpetuating climate change. The five-cent tax on plastic bags dispensed by grocery stores and other retailers was put on hold shortly before it was set to take effect on April Fool’s Day, 2020.

The pause was implemented due to fears reusable bags might inadvertently spread the virus, as well as to give an economic break to residents hard hit by Gov. Tim Walz’s shutdown. Despite the health concerns, local activists claim the fee’s implementation was postponed far longer than necessary, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

Jamie Harvie helped organize a local campaign called Bag It Duluth, and the group of concerned residents collected about 3,000 signatures on a resolution in support of bag fees. After all that hard work, he said it has been disappointing to see the policy shelved for so many months.

Nevertheless, he remained philosophical, saying: “Duluth is going to be ready when it’s ready. From the standpoint of climate change and the climate emergency and the ecological crisis that we we’re facing, this is long overdue. But we, as a community, need to be ready to come to grips with this bigger context. So, it seems strange when there’s no technical reason for us to have delayed this, but it is what it is.”

Each time it came up for reconsideration, the city council punted on reinstating the plastic penalty for more than a year. But supporters of the politically correct crackdown on plastic never gave up and are about to get their way.

The latest decision to delay the fee came in December, when 1st District Councilor Gary Anderson introduced an ordinance that tied the launch of the policy to the expiration of the city’s emergency declaration. Under that ordinance, which passed 7-2, the fee was to take effect within 45 days of the stated emergency ending. The city of Duluth allowed its emergency declaration to expire July 16, and the ongoing countdown began.

While Anderson continues to believe the pause was justified at what was already a stressful time for consumers, he said he’s glad to see the implementation date for the fee now nearing.

The city’s public information officer issued a ringing defense of the new ordinance in a public statement.

The purpose of the ordinance is to reduce litter and the harmful environmental impact caused by single use carryout bags by imposing a five – cent pass through fee on carryout bags. The City Council found that single use carryout bags pollute city waterways and sewers, endanger wildlife, contributing to climate change, and cause unsightly litter.

But as always, there’s a loophole. For example, nonprofits such as food banks will not be subject to the fee, along with anyone on food stamps or the Women, Infants, and Children program. Fox-21 News provided a list of other organizations exempted from the city’s climate tax, including pharmacies, art galleries, newspapers, dry cleaners and more.

– Any bag without handles used exclusively to carry produce, meats, other food items or merchandise to the point of sale inside a store or to prevent such items from coming into direct contact with other purchase items

– Bags provided by pharmacists to contain prescription drugs

– Bags used to transport take-out foods and prepared liquids intended for consumption away from the retail establishment

–  Newspaper bags, door-hanger bags, laundry-dry cleaning bags, bags used to protect fine art paper or bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage, pet waste, or yard waste bags; or bags made out of paper

So apparently, if a Duluth resident orders take-out or has food delivered, there’s no fee for a service that depends on plastic bags as much as a grocery store. Not to mention any culpability for the impact on the climate.

But consumers can take comfort knowing this: their plastic bag fees will not be subject to sales tax by the Minnesota Department of Revenue.