Plastic Bags

The Madison City Council is preparing to authorize a study of a possible ordinance banning plastic shopping bags.

Rich Pedroncelli-AP Photo

Madison shoppers should pay a nickel for each paper bag if the city goes ahead with a ban on plastic shopping bags, says the state lobbying group for grocers.

A ban on plastic bags would mean greater use of more expensive paper bags, and that would hurt grocers, Brandon Scholz, president of the Wisconsin Grocers Association, Inc. wrote to City Council members. He cites costs of one-cent for a plastic bag compared to 6 to 10 cents for a paper grocery bag.

“It is simply unrealistic to expect a business with a razor thin margin to accept increased costs based on government mandates without some form of financial relief,” Scholz writes in the Sept. 5 letter. Other cities with plastic bag bans have allowed or mandated retailers to charge at least 5 cents a bag to recoup their costs, Scholz said. He also argues that plastic bags cost less energy to produce and are easier on the environment than paper bags.

There isn’t yet a proposal to ban plastic shopping bags in Madison, but the Madison City Council is likely soon to pass a resolution calling for a study of the disappointing participation in the city’s plastic bag recycling program, including details on plastic bag bans elsewhere and the possibility of instituting a ban here.

Eleven City Council members sponsored the resolution, which also got a nod from the Committee on the Environment and the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

The city made recycling of plastic shopping bags mandatory in 2009 in response to “an overwhelming number of plastic bags in the waste stream,” according to the text of the resolution. Curbside pick-up of recycled plastic shopping bags started in 2012, but fewer than five tons of bags have been collected.

That’s a mixed success at best, says the resolution. It's estimated that Madison residents use 75 million plastic bags a year.