Dallas Brings Back Free Plastic Bags

But not everyone is happy about it.

By Andy UhlerJune 4, 2015 10:09 am|

If you forget to bring your reusable bags to the grocery store in Dallas, starting next week, you’re not going to have to pony up to get a plastic one anymore. The Dallas City Council repealed the fee that it had imposed on single-use bags in January because they were getting sued. The question is, is this an indictment on bag bans or just on the fee?

The council got rid of the fee by a vote of ten to four. Retailers argued that it was a pain and they had to manufacture new reusable bags to comply. Greg Abbott even issued an opinion last year (when he was still the attorney general) saying the city was violating Texas law – specifically a provision that says you can’t put a fee on containers. Elizabeth Findell is the city hall reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She says the fee was actually imposed in lieu of a full ban on single-use plastic bags, like the ones they have in Laredo and Austin.

“They tried to create a compromise with this five-cent fee where they would encourage people to use reusable bags at grocery stores but still allow them to purchase carry-out bags if they wanted to. And that was working to some extent. Polls showed that people were using reusable bags,” Findell says. “But the city was told it’s not legal, you can’t do it, and they were sued. So they had to go back to the way things were before.”

She said even before they got rid of the ban, council member Dwaine Caraway said the council should replace the fee with a complete ban – suggesting that the council was in the pocket of plastic bag manufacturers.

Though a city’s right to ban bags was not repealed by state legislators this session – bills were filed but they didn’t really gain any traction – now Governor Abbott has called them part of a patchwork quilt of bans and regulations. And says that they’re a slippery slope to Texas’ being “California-ized.”

In terms of what’s next for Dallas’ plastic bag use, Findell says she wouldn’t be surprised to see the issue again in the coming few years – because almost half of the council members are term limited, so they’re going to be losing their seats in about two weeks.

“And so one of the council members said today, from the dais, ‘you know, I think if we had this same vote in a couple of weeks, there would be a very different outcome.’ So, I have not heard any of the council members tell me yet, for sure, that they will bring it back again, but it’s certainly a possibility,” she says.

It’s also likely that local control will continue to be a point of contention – even now that the state legislature has adjourned.