Brownsville Citizens React to Proposed Plastic Bag Ordinance Amendment

4 years 9 months 2 weeks ago Wednesday, February 08 2017 Feb 8, 2017 February 08, 2017 5:42 PM February 08, 2017 in News

BROWNSVILLE - Brownsville city commissioners approved Tuesday the first reading of an ordinance amendment that will prohibit the use of plastic bags all together.

The plastic bag fee landed the commission in a legal dispute with the state last October. The state argued the $1 fee for bags allegedly acted like an extra tax.

City leaders opted not to fight in court and instead amend the ordinance.

Some local store managers said the change will affect them. A&V Lopez Supermarket general manager Eliseo Castro said the ordinance has given some customers trouble.

“A lot of my customers pay with food stamps. I can’t sell them a bag with the food stamps,” he said. “So, they wind up with a basket full of groceries that they’ve got to walk out to the car and when they get home take them off one by one.”

The first ordinance amendment will go into effect April 1. City commissioners also approved a measure to stop charging a plastic bag fee as of Feb. 26.

Castro, who sat on the advisory board when the bag ordinance was first established in 2011, said it’s the merchants that will feel the change this time.

“Some of the stores like this one, where a lot of my traffic is foot traffic – How do you come home with 10 cans of corn or whatever in your hand?” he said. “So, we have to make some kind of allowances and, unfortunately, the store is the one that winds up paying for that.”

Castro added it’s much more expensive to purchase paper bags. He said he can purchase six plastic bags for the price of one small paper bag.

Other Brownsville shoppers, like Reyna Gonzalez, said they’ve adjusted well to the change.

“Well, plastic is very destructive. It takes a long time to decompose. There’s no need to have it. It’s better to stick to reusable or paper bags,” she said.

Business owner Souleiman Lawani said he considers it customer service and doesn’t mind spending more in paper bags.

“At least we can give the bag away and help our customers. We’re not only left to make money, but we need to help them,” he said.

The city outlined several exceptions for when plastic bags can be used, as per the changes to the ordinance. Those exceptions are the following:

  • Plastic bags used for produce, nuts, grains, candy or small hardware items

  • Bags used by a non-profit or other hunger relief charity to distribute food, groceries, or household items.

  • Plastic bags to contain or wrap flowers, potted plants, or other items to prevent moisture damage

  • Plastic bags provided for food safety to prevent contamination from cooked, chilled or frozen foods

  • Doesn't apply to bags used for solid waste

The plastic bag ordinance generated $4.7 million on collected fees since it went into effect in Brownsville. The city said they were able to purchase recycling equipment, street sweepers and invest in beautification programs.

City commissioners will have until Feb. 21 to make any more adjustments to the amended ordinance. 

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