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Austin Residents Celebrate Single-Use Bag Ordinance

Community leaders and environmental advocates mark the implementation of Austin’s historic single-use bag ordinance with a “Bag to the Future” Party at Cherrywood Coffeehouse this Thursday February 28 at 7:00 PM. The party features live music from the Whiskey Shivers and other acts, as well as a Coolest Bag Contest for green designers and face painting to remind everyone to “BYOBags” starting Friday.

“It took seven years of sustained organizing and advocacy and a year of preparation, but tonight is an opportunity to celebrate a huge victory for our community and our environment,” Andrew Dobbs, Program Director for Texas Campaign for the Environment said. “The costs of bag pollution have been too high for too long. This is the beginning of a new, cleaner, more responsible future for the City of Austin.”

Unlike most local ordinances which simply address plastic bags, Austin’s ordinance requires that only reusable bags be distributed in the city’s stores—regulating both plastic and paper bags. Currently, Austinites use about 282 million single-use bags a year. Plastic bag pollution alone is estimated to cost taxpayers over $800,000 annually, and business owners at least twice that amount.

“The future of Austin is a Zero Waste future, and this is a necessary step on that path,” Brigid Shea, former Austin City Council Member, said. “Responsibility for our resources is good for the environment, for our economy and for our community. This ordinance will benefit us all.”

Numerous local businesses have already implemented bag-free policies of their own, including some of the city’s most innovative new companies. Austin is also home to reusable bag maker Blue Avocado, as well as a thriving green fashion design scene. The ordinance was the result of long-term public pressure on the City Council generated by Texas Campaign for the Environment, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, the Austin Zero Waste Alliance and numerous other groups from all corners of the city. City Council passed the ordinance on a 7-0 vote at 2:15 in the morning on March 2, 2012.

“Citizens have raised their voices in Austin. This isn’t just about cleaning up our landfills and reducing our waste,” Carmen Llanes Pulido, Community Organizer with PODER, said. “It’s also about the right to enjoy cleaner neighborhoods, waterways and parks, free of litter, part of our environmental rights.”

In addition to little problems and infrastructure damages caused to storm water, wastewater and recycling facilities as well, plastic bags in particular have been cited as destructive to wildlife. The threat to marine life in particular has led South Padre Island and Brownsville to enact local policies limiting bag use, and Corpus Christi is set to enact a fee on all plastic bags in their stores. Fort Stockton restricts plastic bags, but Austin will be the first city in Texas to have removed all single-use bags from retail stores.

“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,” Bill Oliver, local songwriter and wildlife advocate, said. “Other communities around the country and around the world are looking to us for leadership, and tonight we have a chance to show off for them all. That is something worth singing about!”