Plastic Bag Ban for Cities

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The Arizona legislature passed a bill earlier this year that would bar cities from banning plastic grocery bags. State senator John Kavanagh, who supports the legislation, and Tempe city councilwoman Lauren Kuby, representing a city targeted by the bill, will debate the issue.

TED SIMONS: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," hear from both sides on a law that prevents cities from banning plastic bags. Also tonight we'll meet the new director of the state Veterans Affairs Office. And we'll have a summer travel forecast from Triple-A. Those stories next on "Arizona Horizon"

"Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

TED SIMONS: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon," I'm Ted Simons. A new law that prohibits cities from banning plastic bags continues to raise a number of questions regarding state control of municipalities, along with environmental concerns. Now here to discuss the issue are state Senator John Kavanagh who supports the law, and Lauren Kuby bee, a councilwoman from Tempe who considered a ban on plastic bags.

Why is this a good law for Arizona?

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: It's a good law for Arizona because banning plastic bags and other disposable cups like Styrofoam cups are a very bad idea. There's health issues, there's also the cost issue, the cups and containers and the bags. The cost is passed on to consumers. There's the burden it places on businesses that have stores in multiple jurisdictions where you have a plethora of regulations on bags and cups and what have you. There's the lack of convenience. The so-called Styrofoam food containers are the best in terms of leak proof and they preserve the heat, which makes - which reduces bacteria. For health reasons, cost reasons, convenience reasons and for business development reasons it's best to keep it the way it is. Choice. People can choose to use their own bag if they want to or they can use the one in the store.

TED SIMONS: Why is this a bad law for Arizona?

LAUREN KUBY: This is terrible public policy. First of all, I know, Senator, you've striven your whole life to fight for local decision making. You've railed against federal overreach in state affairs. To me this is an example of the state of Arizona reaching into areas of waste management, areas cities traditionally manage, to get involved in our business. Tempe has a problem like many cities in Arizona. We have a huge amount of plasticwaste. We have 50 million plastic bags, single use plastic bags circulating in the City ofTempe.500 bags per year per person. So this creates a problem with our landfills, only 5% of these bags are recycled properly. Those that are attempted to recycled get jammed in the recycling machines. As a result our taxpayers have to pay $210,000 in costs that are associated with the jamming of the recycling sorters. I'm not done.

TED SIMONS: You are, because I want to make sure he gets a chance.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Number one, there is nolandfill crisis in the state ofArizona.I lived in New York where therewas a landfill crisis.I was a councilor in New Jerseywhere there was a landfillcrisis.There is no landfill crisis inthe state of Arizona.All government has to livewithin the constitutionalconstraints imposed upon us.Arizona can't do immigrationlaw.The federal government can't dolocal law.The state constitution clearlystates that there are areaswhere the state can preemptlocal laws.Public issues of health, andalso to prevent the creation ofconflicting confusing laws allover the state that willbefuddle businesses.

TED SIMONS:Please.

LAUREN KUBY: Landfills, there are tremendous costs in transporting plastic bags to landfills. County of Maricopa spends $3million a year, 150,000 hours of labor time.65 tons of trash, 90% of that is plastic. So there's a lot of cost involved for cities and towns. It's my responsibility as a councilor to put politics and ideology aside and try and save the taxpayers money. Cities are where we innovate. Cities are where we solve problems for our constituents. Cities is where we manage our waste stream and try to do what's right for the environment, for the citizens of Arizona and for the economy. This is triple bottom line and it's rare in public policy where you can find such a sweet spot where you can benefit the economy, the environment and citizens at the same time.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Number one, jamming machines. The recyclers went crazy with the stamps that don't require licking because it was jamming their machines .They re-engineered, fixed the machines. I think we can fix machines so a little plastic bag doesn't jam the machines. Let's talk about the amount. People say let's get rid of the Styrofoam coffee cups and use the paper ones instead. Number one, Styrofoam is cheaper to make. It is lighter, less prepared costs to the store and to the landfill.

And styrene enters your bloodstream as a carcinogen.

And a replacement for the Styrofoam which is light is a paper cup which, when you use coffee, you require double cupping or a sleeve which is heavier and takes up more space in the landfill.

LAUREN KUBY: That's why a lot of businesses give incentives to encourage people to reuse bags. These bag prohibitions we've seen all over the country, we've seen best practices cases all over the country. They have really profound results. We have cases in Washington, D.C., they reduced their single use plastic bag use by 90%.These facts are indisputable. The senator would like to talk about the health impacts. I would like to comment on that. He's referring to a study done with 64 canvas bags that shows the presence of bacteria in canvas bags. Senator, you have E. coli in your socks. What do you do? You wash your socks.

No, E. coli does not live in dry surfaces.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Everybody knows.

LAUREN KUBY: It's brought by the plastic industry to make it so we can't decide these things at the local level.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Supermarkets are Petri dishes for germs. It's not just the bags. The shopping carts. I have a study from the University of Arizona where they do swabs of shopping carts. Germs from food, vegetables, chicken packaging, the hands of customers that don't wash their hands, hands from babies. They contaminate the shopping carts, single use plastic bags which people put these foods into and handle. There was a University of Arizona study which showed they were contaminated with all sorts of germs.

LAUREN KUBY: It's been looked at by "Consumer Reports. "And one other point to be really made, it's 99.99% of the germs were found to disappear when you wash the canvas bag. These laws are meant to encourage behavior with consumers to bring their bags inform home, from their garage, from their car. It's working all over the country.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: Your mandating and banning. I have no problem with giving consumers choice. But there are health concerns.

LAUREN KUBY: There are not.

It's a trumped-up charge.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about the concerns because there is a concern that a hodgepodge of regulations from city to city means businesses --increases costs to businesses and consumers.

It's that a valid argument?

LAUREN KUBY: No, it's not. Let's talk about increased costs. They spend two to three cents per plastic bag which they pass on to the consumer. We were just investigating doing everything we could to bring allthe stakeholders together. The proposal we were considering, that the retail establishment would be able to charge 10 cents or more for the paper bag.

The customer would pay that.

Let me finish what I'm saying.

So it's a cost to the public.

What we found across the country is that you see people, generally they remember to bring their bags. If they don't they can simply buy a bag. The retail establishment has the opportunity point of sale to sell reusable bags and make a profit on that. The paper bag is 5 cents, they sell it for a dime. They profit from this.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: If what she says is true, then all of the supermarkets, all of the convenience stores, these retail stores would be lobbying to us ban the reusable ban so they can have their windfall but they are not. They are all opposed to the law. They see the problems with leaking food packages, having to double cup coffee, additional costs for the coffee cups and other bags. And the fact that there was a health issue I'm not going to avoid, because I'm concerned about the health of my constituents. It's not just that one study. There's another U. of A. study that says these are Petri dishes for disease.

TED SIMONS: Quick response on both sides here.

Critics say this isn't local control, they say this is local out of control. Respond quickly, please.
LAUREN KUBY: This is an opportunity to put ideology aside, Senator, and do what's best for our community. Our community needs to solve waste problem in a way that benefits the taxpayers. You're a fiscal conservative. This would bring $210,000 back to communities so we can investing parks.

TED SIMONS: If the state is increasingly heavy-handed over cities, thesis another example.

SEN. JOHN KAVANAGH: The Arizona Constitution delineates certain areas the state government can preempt. Public safety and health is one, the avoidance of an onerous hodgepodge of conflicting laws that hurt businesses and others.

TED SIMONS:We have to stop it right there. Thank you for a spirited conversation. Thank you both.

Thank you.

LAUREN KUBY: Okay.

John Kavanagh:State senator; Lauren Kuby:Tempe City Councilwoman

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