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Cities look at limits on plastic bags

Regulating plastic bags has been briefly discussed in at least one Johnson County city and nearly approved in another. But Prairie Village may become the first city in Kansas to regulate plastic bags if a committee-driven initiative moves forward.

Members of the Prairie Village environmental committee plan to talk with retailers in the next few weeks regarding ways to reduce or eliminate plastic bags. Results could lead to a formal proposal to the City Council, said Ben Claypool, chairman of the education sub-committee of the environmental committee.

“People are really supportive of the idea,” said Claypool. “There is a wave of this happening throughout the United States. We’d like to visit with retailers to hear how it would fit into their green initiatives and discuss any concerns.”

Roeland Park came close to voting on an ordinance to charge a fee for plastic bag use several years ago.

The idea of regulating plastic bags was proposed by a Shawnee city councilman, but no action was taken.

The issue hasn’t been discussed in Overland Park. Olathe or Leawood, according to city officials.

About 100 cities and counties throughout the United States regulate plastic bag use and California passed a statewide ban set to go into effect in 2015.

Options the Prairie Village committee is considering include an outright ban on single-use plastic bags or charging a fee per bag, Claypool said. The goal would be to encourage citizens to use reusable bags.

According to environmentalists, about 1 million plastic bags are used each minute; however, it can take 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade.

The Prairie Village environmental committee has been discussing regulating plastic bags for more than a year, said City Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins, council liaison to the environmental committee.

“I’m thrilled we have a group of citizens excited about this effort,” she said. “It’s a citizen-driven idea.”

City Administrator Quinn Bennion, however, voiced concerns regarding staff time involved implementing restrictions.

“Staff would have to make cutbacks in other areas to deal with the initiative,” he said.

Claypool said the environmental committee would handle everything regarding the initiative at this time.

“There is no timeline,” Claypool said. “The committee will take a lot on ourselves, including talking with retailers.”

Claypool said committee members will talk to the city’s largest retailers first, which are grocery and hardware stores. A timeline for compliance with any restrictions approved could differ based on the business’s size, he added.

The environmental committee is scheduled to meet today to develop a plan to contact retailers, Claypool said.

“At the meeting we will determine which committee members will be contacting retailers and which retailers we will visit,” he said. A timeline for meeting with retailers will also be set at that time.

Megan England, a member of Roeland Park’s sustainability committee, addressed the Prairie Village environmental committee earlier this year. She said the city was close to passing an initiative to charge a 5 cent fee for plastic bags several years ago.

“We spent about a year studying it,” she said. “But right before we took our proposal to the council a lawsuit was filed against the city of Mission in regard to its Transportation Utility Fee. We didn’t want to risk that liability, so the plastic bag proposal was dropped.”

Shawnee Councilman Dan Pflumm voiced concerns and recommended regulating plastic bags several years ago. No action was taken. “At that time we were working on our general recycling policies,” said City Manager Carol Gonzales. “Plastic bags were part of that discussion but no restrictions were included.”

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