Cleveland Collaborating with County to Reduce Plastic Bags

Cuyahoga County in Ohio is home to the City of Cleveland and both municipalities are joining forces in the fight against plastic bags. As has been seen time and time again getting rid of plastic bags is no easy task and the City and County Councils are working with the county health department, solid waste district and community activists to figure out how to completely
do away with plastic bags. The City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County want to stop the use of plastic bags and they understand the enormity of this undertaking. They hope that by working together they can pool their ideas and resources and make plastic bags a distant memory.

City Councilman Matt Zone and County Councilwoman Sunny Simon are the main forces behind this endeavor. Simon had previously proposed a tax on plastic bags handed out at stores and restaurants. This tried and true idea causes retail patrons to stop the think about whether it is worth it to them to pay the fee or tax or to bring their own reusable shopping bags. Taxes of any kind are a tough sell, especially in trying economic times. The advantage of the tax method is that is raises funds that can be directed to environmental cleanup efforts and education efforts to explain to people why doing away with plastic bag use is a good call and the virtues of reusable bags. A great aspect about a tax on plastic bags is that if shoppers want nothing to do with the tax and if they want to avoid the issue completely they can just pick up some reusable bags and forgo the entire problem.  Councilwoman Simon is hoping that monies raised by a fee or tax could be used to further reduce plastic bags and fund cleanup efforts.

Collaboration and Consistency will Lead to Success

The problem (because there is always some type of hurdle) is that it is unclear if the County Council has the authority to pass laws that would apply to cities located within the county. Simon could pass laws that would impact Cuyahoga County, but not the City of Cleveland, and Zone could pass laws that would cover the City of Cleveland, but not the rest of the County. The collaboration of several agencies will help the City and County Councils navigate this obstacle, and the group effort also helps ensure the final law is a good fit and something the people of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County can live with and abide by. "I'm not going to do anything that's going to create unrest and litigation," Simon said. "I want to work collaboratively with cities and find common ground to implement . . . a bag ordinance that's hopefully going to satisfy the residents and the businesses in the county." Creating one law that covers all areas is ideal because of the consistency factor. One law avoids guesswork and the hassle to shoppers of plastic bags being allowed in some areas but not others, or for example, having to pay a tax on bags while shopping in stores outside of the city limits, but shopping tax-free in the City of Cleveland. One law also ensures that shoppers will not flock to stores not impacted by a ban or tax and thusly taking business away from other stores. It is more difficult to draft and pass, but ultimately one law is easier for everyone who lives and works within the City or the County.

Reusable Shopping Bags Cure Plastic Bag Epidemic

Plastic bags are an epidemic. Every time shoppers head to the store they are loaded up with more disposable plastic bags that they bring home and add to their collection. "It's wasteful," said Board of Health Commissioner Terry Allan. "Everyone has plastic bags piling up in their house." Plastic bags are seldom recycled and recycling the bags is not necessarily that great of an outcome. Recycling is an acceptable way to handle plastic bags, but it is not a solution. A solution is to stop the creation of new plastic bags. As long as new plastic bags are produced the plastic bag problem will just continue to grow and grow. Recycling allows us to deal with the bags that already exist which are a necessary step. To further complicate matters and compound the problem the majority of disposable plastic bags handed out at stores and in restaurants are not recycled – they are thrown in the garbage or end up as litter. Taking disposable bags out of the equation ends the cycle and helps the environment while keeping neighborhoods free from ugly litter. Reusable grocery bags effortlessly fill the void left by plastic bags. Reusable bags do everything disposable bags can do without any of the drawbacks.

Collaboration is the key to the success for the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. Working together will allow everyone to be heard and create a law that works. "We're going to create a constructive conversation within the city and county to move toward a disposable bag policy," said City Councilman Zone. "We can enact an ordinance in our city. . . . But they can't tell Brook Park or Beachwood what to do." By making everyone part of the discussion Simon and Zone can create a law that meets their objectives, but is also something that the residents of the cities and towns within the county can life and work with. Right now the conversation is moving forward in regards to plastic bags. Paper bags are typically lumped into any bans or taxes levied against plastic bags, but at this point in time there has been no dialogue on the topic of paper bags. The hope is to have some type of ban or tax structure in place by the end of the year.

To read more about the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County's tag team efforts to reduce the amount of plastic bags in Ohio go to http://www.cleveland.com/cuyahoga-county/index.ssf/2012/05/cleveland_cuyahoga_county_collaborate_on_curbing_plastic_bags.html.

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