The Environmental Sustainability Board of the City of Decatur, Georgia is trying to determine if they want to pursue an anti-bag tax or an outright ban on plastic carry-out bags.
Home to 18,000 residents, Decatur, Georgia, is a very progressive small town and is located only a few miles from Atlanta, Georgia. Decatur is the county seat of Dekalb county and is part of the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.
Similar to South Lake Tahoe, Decatur is exploring the idea of eliminating single-use plastic bags along with polystyrene containers.
The nine-member Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) acts in an advisory capacity and makes recommendations to the City Commission on environmental matters. Two members of the ESB, Jill Jordan and Gary Garrett sat down with me and discussed the possibility of a plastic bag ban.
"The idea came about early last year," said Ms. Jordan. In fact, the idea came up during roundtable discussions being held to formulate the City of Decatur's "Strategic Plan 2010". Ms. Jordan and Mr. Garrett were Facilitators for several of those Roundtable Discussions.
The Strategic Plan 2010 is a comprehensive set of guiding principles that Decatur intends to accomplish over the course of the next ten years. The Plan includes numerous environmental objectives. Principle C of the Plan states: Serve As Good Stewards of the Environment and Community Resources.
As part of 'idea generating' for the roundtable discussions, the ESB posted a survey online. The survey was designed to get citizen interaction about certain environmental issues.
Presented here are two of the questions asked:
Question 1: If you do not use reusable shopping bags, what is the main reason?
85.8% said: I forgot to bring them to the store.
6.6% said: I like plastic bags better.
6.2% said: Reusable bags aren't clean.
11.8% said: Reusable bags aren't convenient.
Question 2: What actions do you think would reduce the amount of plastic bags disposed of in our landfill?
38.3% said: Encourage citizens to use reusable shopping bags by instituting a tax on bags at local retailers.
29.5% said: Ban plastic bags that are used at local retailers.
56.8% said: Encourage local retailers to offer discounts for using reusable shopping bags.
22.8% said: The City of Decatur should do nothing more than support reduction of plastic bags by issuing a proclamation supporting reusable bags and educating residents on reducing waste.
Along with the above questions, three questions were asked pertaining to polystyrene (styrofoam) containers. The questions pertaining to styrofoam drew huge response. To sum it up, residents responding to the survey are in favor of eliminating polystyrene containers. 61% said they don't like to use styrofoam. 67% said styrofoam containers should be banned or taxed and just over 57% said they would be willing to pay a little more for non-styrofoam containers.
Mr. Garrett stated, "A fee or ban of plastic bags would probably not be much of an issue here in Decatur." In 1998, the City of Decatur's Public Works Department implemented a "Pay-As-You-Throw" system for garbage collection.
PAYT helped Decatur reduce solid waste landfill deposits and also complemented the existing recycling program. PAYT requires residents to purchase special plastic bags to use for disposing of garbage. PAYT bags cost approximately $5.00 to $6.00 for a box of ten. Garbage will only be collected if it is in the special bags.
Ms. Jordan and Mr. Garrett said the Environmental Sustainability Board is still collecting data and doing research in order to determine the best way to reduce plastic bag use in the City. Both ESB members said that various entities of the Plastics Industry had contacted them with what the industry called a better means to plastic bag reduction.