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Anchorage’s temporary suspension of plastic bag ban has ended; mayor seeks to suspend it again

Anchorage City Hall.
Anchorage City Hall.(Jeremy Kashatok/Alaska's News Source)
Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 10:08 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 2, 2021 at 3:33 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Before the COVID-19 pandemic dominated news and municipal decision making, several cities including Anchorage were tackling the issue of plastic waste and how to reduce it. Anchorage’s ban on plastic bags was suspended during the height of the pandemic, but starting Wednesday it’s back to paper or reusable options.

Anchorage’s ban on plastic bags for the retail sector went into effect in 2019. Anchorage Assembly member Felix Rivera said in a Tuesday interview that the city was following a national and global movement to try to reduce them as an item of waste.

“Because frankly who wants to see plastic bags sort of blowing in the wind in your street, or in the tree, or you know, on the beach?” he said. “Who wants to see that junk, right?”

The city made the decision to move forward in the direction of encouraging more reusable bags, Rivera said. During the pandemic, the ban on plastic bags was suspended in part due to concerns over health safety and in part because the supply chain for paper bags was interrupted. That suspension on the ban ended on Tuesday, and starting Wednesday, the ban was back in full effect in Anchorage.

A day later on Thursday, Mayor Dave Bronson announced in a press release that he is introducing an ordinance that would once again extend the suspension on the bag ban, this time until May 1, 2022.

Bronson said in the release that he has heard from “a variety” of Anchorage residents and businesses who support extending the ban suspension. He said extending the suspension would allow retailers to use up their existing stock of plastic bags and provide more time for them to restock on paper bags.

“With supply chain shortages and delays, the rise is COVID-19 case counts, and the massive expansion in curbside pick-up and delivery that has limited the use of personal and reusable bags, this policy should be extended until we can get our hands around a variety of outstanding issues,” Bronson is quoted as saying in the release. " ... While I generally disagree with the underlying policy banning the distribution of plastic bags, I think we can all agree that a temporary moratorium on this policy is the right approach.”

The ordinance will be introduced at the assembly’s Sept. 14 meeting.

“I don’t know of any legitimate reason why we should reinstate the suspension of the plastic bag ban,” Rivera said via email on Thursday. “I’m curious to learn the Mayor’s rationale for introducing this ordinance.”

The municipal code on plastic bags states that, with certain exceptions, retailers are not to provide customers with plastic bags. Exceptions are for things like in-store plastic bags that are used to hold fresh produce or to stop items from leaking.

According to the code, retailers may provide an alternative bag, like paper, and must charge an additional 10 cents per bag.

The plastic bag ban was in place in Anchorage before the pandemic. Rivera said during his Tuesday interview with Alaska’s News Source that the assembly decided to suspend that ban when the pandemic reached the 49th state for a couple different reasons.

“The primary reason was the supply chain for paper bags was cut off, right? People couldn’t get any more paper bags, so we had to switch back — retailers had to switch back to plastic bags,” Rivera said.

Another reason for suspending the plastic bag ban was some concern at the start of the pandemic about the health impacts of reusable bags, and whether they could transmit COVID-19, Rivera said.

“I think since last year, we’ve learned a lot about the virus and now nothing that I am reading leads me to have a lot of concern about reusable bags transmitting the virus,” he said.

Earlier this year, the assembly passed an ordinance that extended the suspension on the bag ban beyond the emergency order the city had at the time that suspended the ban. The ordinance terminated that particular emergency order and set up a suspension on the bag ban within city code. That ordinance noted that the suspension would end Tuesday, Aug. 31.

“Starting tomorrow, we’re going back to what we had before, which was the plastic bag ban in full effect,” Rivera told Alaska’s News Source on Tuesday. “So paper bags, but preferably we’re hoping folks will use reusable bags.”

Rivera said that starting Wednesday, people would hopefully start to see stores welcoming back reusable bags at the check out registers,.

Wasilla, Kodiak and Soldotna enacted their own plastic bag ban ahead of Anchorage, in 2018. Anchorage was followed by several other cities in Alaska that enacted their own versions of plastic bags bans, including Seward, Homer and Haines.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct that retailers may provide alternatives to plastic bags, like paper bags, and must charge 10 cents per bag for those.

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