“Bag to the Future”--Advocates Mark 30-Day Countdown to Austin’s Single Use Bag Ordinance
AUSTIN, TX—Community leaders and environmental advocates marked the beginning of a 30- day countdown to implementation of Austin’s Single-Use Bag Ordinance by announcing a “Bag to the Future” concert and party, scheduled for February 28th, the day before the new law goes into effect. The announcement was made Wednesday, January 30th at 10:00 AM at Austin City Hall. The press conference featured local leaders from the environmental, business and faith communities to make the case for the city’s decision to move to reusable bags. Opponents of Austin’s bag ordinance, the notorious Bag Monsters, disrupted the event in order to make the case for their continued pollution.
“After years of sustained organizing, a unanimous vote by City Council, and then a year of rulemaking and public education, Austin is now a mere 30 days away from one of the boldest single use bag policies in the country,” said Stacy Guidry, Chair of the Austin Zero Waste Alliance. “For everyone committed to a cleaner environment, this is a day to celebrate. The ordinance gives consumers a way to make a small change in their everyday lives while making a huge impact on protecting our planet. And businesses reap financial savings by not having to provide single use bags.”
The “Bag to the Future” Party will feature live music, a Coolest Bag Contest, face-painting and hand stamps to remind people to “B. Y. O. Bags.” Unlike most local ordinances which simply address plastic bags, Austin’s ordinance requires that only reusable bags be distributed in the city’s retail and grocery stores—regulating both plastic and paper bags. Currently, Austinites use about 282 million disposable single-use bags per year, costing residents and businesses valuable tax dollars for clean-up.
“Our organization is proud to have been among the earliest advocates for a comprehensive bag policy in Austin, and we are thrilled to see all of our hard work finally come to fruition next month,” said David Foster, State Director for Clean Water Action. “Thousands of Austin residents contacted their elected officials demanding this policy. The “Bag to the Future” party on February 28 is a celebration of citizen power, a chance for the people of Austin to recognize the power of their voice.”
Numerous local businesses got a jump start and have implemented bag-free policies of their own, including some of the city’s most innovative new companies. Austin businesses stand to save millions of dollars as they will no longer be expected to provide free bags, nor spend the estimated $800,000 dedicated annually to bag pollution control. Taxpayers spend roughly the same amount on cleanup and response to the destruction that single use bags cause to recycling equipment, water treatment and wastewater and flood control facilities, as well as our lakes, rivers and streams.
“Austin and Austin businesses continue to pioneer sustainable practices, and this policy is a powerful example,” said Christian Lane, co-founder of in.gredients, the country’s first Zero Waste grocery store and winner of the Austin Chronicle’s 2012 Best New Local Business. “Businesses who have shown leadership on waste reduction are excited to see these efforts pay off. This is an important day for personal responsibility and wise stewardship of our limited resources.”
Faith leaders have also been at the forefront of this policy change. Rabbi Steven Folberg from the Interfaith Environmental Network (IEN), an affiliate of the national group Interfaith Power and Light said, “In the few years since its founding here in Austin, IEN has rapidly grown in individual and congregational memberships. IEN educates and encourages members of the faith community to foster environmental stewardship in their daily lives. We have given full support to passing Austin’s Single Use Bag Ordinance since 2011 and this policy is just one example of our teachings on how we are connected to each other, to all life and to the generations to come.”
Still, a narrow section of Austin is unhappy about the ordinance: the Bag Monsters. Advocates for bag pollution, these plastic and paper clad monsters, cheered on lobbyists for the plastic and paper bag industries at Austin City Hall during last year’s debate that lasted until 2AM, and they have struggled to trip up the policy in the months since. These nuisances interrupted the advocates’ press conference make their case for continued litter from paper and plastic bag use.
“We want to be FREE,” said a Bag Monster. “We want to be free to pollute waterways! We want to be free to snag recycling equipment and shut facilities down. We want to be free to clog up storm drains. But, most of all, we want to be free to the pollute on the taxpayers’ dime!”
“The Bag Monsters know that their days are numbered--that number is 30,” said Robin Schneider, Executive Director of Texas Campaign for the Environment. “Despite all of the Bag Monsters’ disruptions and distractions and the deceptions of their corporate lobbyist allies, Austin has taken a stand. They can’t bother us anymore. We’re set to celebrate the end of their reign with a public party on February 28th and the bag policy going into effect the next day, March 1st.”
Theevent featured live music with a performance from local activist, singer and songwriter Bill Oliver, whose song “Bring Your Own Bags” became a cheerful rallying cry for advocates of the ordinance during citizen lobbying efforts last year. Known as “Mr. Habitat,” Oliver and allies from Sierra Club became major advocates for the ordinance in order to protect wildlife from bag pollution.
“I’ve seen Austin’s environmental movement grow up and spread its wings over the last two decades, and this policy is a powerful step in the right direction,” Oliver said. “Other communities around the country and around the world are looking to us for leadership, and in just 30 days, we’ll get a chance to provide that leadership. Now, that’s something worth singing about!”
The City of Austin requests that any violations of any ordinance, including the Single Use Bag Ordinance effective on March 1st, 2013, be reported to the 311.