To help environment, Lawrence considers banning plastic bags or charging fee

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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Lawrence could become the first city in Kansas to ban plastic bags or charge a fee for using them.

Similar policies are already in place in more than 350 cities around the country, but plastic bags are a staple in most of our shopping lives.

"It's millions of bags that are used by those in Lawrence on a yearly basis," said Jasmin Moore, Lawrence's sustainability director.

But the convenient sacks often end up in less than desirable places, threatening the environment.

"We see it in our landfill. We see it blowing down our streets. We see it along our river banks," Moore said.

A group of Lawrence elementary students wrote this report last year and took it to the city, hoping their little voices could lead to big change.

After a thorough review by the city's sustainability committee, a proposal has now been drafted.

"We've made a lot of bad choices throughout our time on this earth, and it's starting to have an effect," said Adam Richie, who supports the bag ban.

The city's looking at the following four possibilities:

  • Charge small fee for both paper and plastic bags
  • Ban plastic bags and charge a small fee for paper bags
  • Charge a small fee for plastic bags and not paper bags
  • Ban plastic bags and charge no fee for paper bags

The overall goal is to help the environment and get more people to switch to reusable totes.

"There should be fifth option, and that is to let people use plastic bags. I look at it like a single mother has three kids, forgets her bags. How's she going to get her groceries?" said Dan Cady, who opposes the bag ban.

That's why some support a fee, with the idea that those dollars could help supply low-income families with free reusable bags. But the city's said it could be tough to isolate that cash and collect it.

"It doesn't seem like it's really that complicated. To give the money to the grocer, grocery store and they just collect fee. Not sure what that's doing to benefit the big overview of what we really want to do," said Michael Davidson, who supports a ban with fees.

But retailers definitely have concerns. They fear a bag ban or fees could slow down check-outs, make bags crammed with damaged products, and even pose health risks.

"I'm not sure this program listens to the merchants. It also makes merchants the bad guys. They're the ones that have to take that 15 cents a bag or whatever your proposed number is. So they're going to be ones making excuses, or saying sorry," said Brian Sloop, who opposes the bag ban.

For now, Lawrence is collecting as much public feedback as possible, before sending an ordinance to the city commission for consideration.

If you missed Friday's public input meetings, you can still share your thoughts with the city here.

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