Plastic Bag Debate Rages On

City officials passionately debate Dallas plastic bag ban

City officials passionately debate Dallas plastic bag ban

For two hours, Dallas City Council members passionately debated the pros and cons of a single-use plastic bag ban. The hearing, which did not include a vote, raised more questions than answers and left several members huffing and puffing. 

The council listened to a thorough presentation by city staffer Jill Jordan, who said she spent the summer studying the issue. She compiled a summary of bag bans and other plans to deal with litter from Austin to China.

Her assessment? "The results haven't been all that great," she said. "A lot of the voluntary efforts have been led by governments, and sometimes they’ve been effective and sometimes not."

 Council member Rick Callahan called a bag ban "anti-choice, anti-business, anti-jobs and anti-employment."

Jordan referenced a 2009 "Keep America Beautiful" study that said plastic bags account for only .6 percent of litter nationally. She said Dallas receives around 20,000 annual complaints about litter and spends around $4 million each year cleaning up the city. 

Council member Dwaine Caraway, who is leading the push to ban single-use plastic bags, spoke first.

"Today the criminal is the plastic bag, and the criminal is on trial" Caraway said with gusto before proceeding to bring out two blue Wal-Mart reusable bags filled with groceries to show their large capacity.

Clearly running short on patience, Mayor Mike Rawlings interrupted the councilman. "Mr. Caraway, do we have an ETA here?" Rawlings asked. 

Caraway wrapped up his speech by calling for the retailers to find sponsors for reusable bags. 

"For fashionable people, you’ve got fashionable bags," Caraway said, pulling out a pink pouch from his bag of tricks. "Get out of your Mercedes and get out looking good with your bags. It can match what you have on." 

Council member Jennifer Staubach Gates said she wanted Dallas to forge its own path in the plastic bag debate, not just copy Austin's decision to ban them. She called Caraway's speech "an Oscar-worthy performance."

Council members Scott Griggs and Lee Kleinman voiced strong support for a ban, while Rick Callahan and Sheffie Kadane were passionately opposed. Callahan called the idea of a ban "anti-choice, anti-business, anti-jobs and anti-employment."

"Even my mother is opposed to it," he said.

Kadane said he hated litter as much as the next person but didn't want to "micro-manage these companies." 

"I saw a person the other day throw a chicken box out on the street, so let’s ban the chicken boxes. It’s the people that are causing the crimes," Kadane said. 

In the end, Rawlings encouraged the council to take a closer look at the issue and invite the public into the conversation before drafting an ordinance.

"This is not just one little battle that we’re trying to fight," Rawlings said. "This is a big, big issue that we’re dealing with."

Councilmember Dwaine Caraway
Council member Dwaine Caraway raises his reusable bags to show off their strength. Photo by Claire St. Amant
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings
Mayor Mike Rawlings thinks more work needs to be done before a plastic bag ban is considered. Photo courtesy of Mike Rawlings for Mayor