Duluth Under Pressure to Delay Plastic Bag Fee on Consumers Again

A pandemic has a way of putting things in context, what’s really important, even in government. Take the 5-cent fee the powers that be in Duluth planned to impose on consumers starting on New Year’s Day for using disposable plastic bags at the grocery and other stores.

The Duluth City Council originally intended to implement it in April, but wisely held off until 2021, due to the impact of the coronavirus on businesses and residents. Yet nine months later the coronavirus continues to be a threat and the green feel-good fee still looks like a bad idea.

Therefore the city council plans to punt again, according to the Duluth News Tribune editorial page.

Council President Gary Anderson has sponsored an amended ordinance to delay the fee until 90 days after emergency COVID-19 pandemic declarations by the city and/or state expire, as the News Tribune reported late last week. The amended ordinance is to be introduced at today’s council meeting and could be passed as soon as a week from today.

“The pandemic is seemingly at a turning point now with the vaccine starting to come out,” Anderson said in the News Tribune. “But there are still families in need, and we don’t know when unemployment may or may not end.”

He doesn’t want to add to existing burdens, Anderson added.

Apparently city leaders are fine with adding to their constituents’ existing burdens if and when the virus winds down in a few months. But the paper’s editorial questions whether the limited impact the controversial measure will have on the environment is worth the negative effect it’s already had on the community.

However, with so many plastic products contributing to the plastics-pollution problem, can a fee on just shopping bags really make much of a difference? And has the neverending effort to implement this fee in Duluth been worth the divisiveness and neighbors-vs.-neighbors hard feelings it has created?

Duluthians can be encouraged to reduce their use of plastics without being nicked every time they pick up a gallon of milk.

While a nickel a bag may not seem like much, it’s a new fee (a new tax really) that will add up quite quickly for some, particularly those already counting every penny to also cover rent, medical bills, and other basic necessities.

The editorial argues that dropping the plastic bag fee for good should be viewed as an opportunity to turn around Duluth’s less than welcoming image toward business. But it probably helps to believe in Santa Claus to think that’s a realistic possibility.

Even if impacts are minimal, a fresh onslaught of claims of government overreach in Duluth only further reinforces our city’s lingering and unfortunate reputation as a tough place to do business.

Such challenges aren’t going to go away when COVID-19 does. But the Duluth City Council’s bag fee can — for good.