Austin’s bag ban begins with cheers, grumbles


As Austin’s ban on disposable bags got under way Friday, Lisa Flores came prepared to a North Austin Wal-Mart.

She brought reusable fabric bags from home to buy a pet carrier, organizational items and a jar of spicy pickles.

“I’ve brought my own reusable bags for a while. So I don’t mind” the ban, she said. “It’s progressive. It’s very little effort for a big gain.”

Another Wal-Mart shopper, Virgil Rohleck, was unhappy about the change.

“There is nothing wrong with plastic bags,” he said, opting to carry out a few items from the store on Anderson Lane. “It’s just another thing they are putting on people to take away their rights.”

The ban prohibits retailers from offering thin, so-called single-use paper or plastic bags. The City Council passed the ban last March, saying thin plastic bags, in particular, often end up as litter and are costly to clean up. The council made the ban effective a year later to give stores and shoppers time to prepare.

Retailers may still offer thicker paper or plastic bags with handles, which the city considers reusable, and may decide whether to charge for those bags.

Most of the large chain stores, like H-E-B, Randalls, Walgreens, Wal-Mart and Target, are offering thicker, reusable paper or plastic bags for a fee. Wal-Mart, for example, is offering paper bags with handles for 10 cents each, but some customers at the Anderson Lane location said Friday that the handles and bags were tearing easily.

Austin Resource Recovery, the city’s trash and recycling department, spent $850,000 on an ad campaign about the ban, in addition to offering free training sessions for businesses. “We’ve been doing so much outreach … that today has been pretty quiet,” spokeswoman Courtney Black said.

The city’s 311 line had gotten eight complaints related to the ban as of Friday afternoon.

Shoppers and retailers’ reactions to the ban at stores across Austin ranged from cheerful to grudging.

Fred Mann brought old single-use plastic bags he had saved to buy a cart full of groceries at an H-E-B on East Seventh Street.

“I do love these plastic bags,” he said. “Everybody hates change. But as long as (the ban) is good for the environment, I’m OK with it.”

Barbara Norwood remembered to bring cloth reusable bags to a Randalls on Lake Austin Boulevard in West Austin but isn’t sure a ban is necessary.

“My feeling is it’s another way of micromanaging,” she said. “It’s supposed to be about stopping litter, but I never litter anyway.”

Another Randalls shopper, Alice Cain, toted groceries to her car in the cart, without any bags.

“I don’t like plastic bags,” she said. “I like the reusable bags. They don’t tear and are easy to pack. I just forgot them in my car today.”

Employees at the Fiesta Mart off Interstate 35 near Stassney Lane spent the past year preparing for the ban and looking for cost-effective options for customers, store manager Jeff Williams said.

The store is offering thicker plastic bags with handles for 25 cents apiece and other reusable bags for higher prices. Williams said Friday that he had received no customer complaints.

Tomgro Grocery on Montopolis Drive continued to offer single-use bags Friday, customer Alfredo Sedillo said.

Sedillo said he usually carries a reusable bag but forgot it Friday. The ban “will be kind of hard on people who can’t afford (to pay for bags), but it’s better for the environment,” he said.

Tomgro store managers were not available for comment.

Ron Roberts brought a few reusable bags to the H-E-B on Seventh Street on Friday and got a few for free from the store.

The ban won’t be a big adjustment, he said. “It’s just like remembering to wear seat belts,” he said. “We’ll get used to it. We have no choice.”


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