Logan becomes third Utah city to adopt single-use plastic bag ban

(Photo courtesy of Utah Department of Environmental Quality) Recycling workers at one of Salt Lake City's processing facilities look over a mountain of plastic bags and other items removed from regular curbside recycling bins because they are not recyclable. Logan has become the third municipality in Utah to ban retailers from using single-use plastic bags within the city.

After they “wrestled and stewed and strategized” over the past few months, members of the Logan City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve a ban on single-use plastic bags — becoming the third municipality in the state to do so.

The prohibition, spearheaded by Councilman Herm Olsen, will take effect on Earth Day in April as part of an effort to “protect the environment, public health and the economy” by diminishing waste, litter and impacts on recycling equipment, wildlife, water quality and landfill operations.

“This plastic doesn’t disappear,” Olsen said during the council meeting Tuesday, the last one of his 12 years of service in public office. “It breaks down into microbeads of plastic and finds its way into our water system, into our food chain, and is simply unnecessary when we have better alternatives.”

At the same time, the council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday supporting a county-wide plastic waste management program, which would give retailers the option of whether to eliminate free single-use plastic bags or provide them at a charge of $0.10 each. They can also choose to pay a surcharge of $17.50 per ton of waste they generate.

The city bag ban’s delayed effective date is in part an effort to spur action on the county plan, which requires approval first from the county’s Solid Waste Advisory Board and then the Cache County Council. If it passes, Olsen said the city’s bag ban could be repealed; if it doesn’t, at least the city will have a measure in place to help curb plastic use, he said.

"We need to address plastic pollution one way or another, and this ordinance adopted would be hopefully a catalyst for implementation of the countywide plastic reduction plan,” Olsen said.

Councilman Tom Jensen, who was one of two council members who voted against the citywide plastic bag ban, said he would prefer to see broader action and wanted to give the county more time to consider its ordinance.

“I don’t want to see the divisions between cities,” he explained.

Consistency across municipalities has been a concern expressed by a number of state lawmakers, who have worked in recent legislative sessions to ban cities from creating bag bans. So far, their attempts have been unsuccessful.

Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, ran a bill earlier this year that would end city or county ordinances seeking to regulate virtually any kind of container made from any kind of material, not just plastic bags. Such bans disrupt the marketplace and hurt businesses, he argued.

But in Moab, which followed Park City in adopting a bag ban, city spokeswoman Lisa Church said there hasn’t been a “backlash” from retailers since the measure took effect earlier this year.

“Everybody’s complying,” she told The Salt Lake Tribune on Thursday. “It’s been kind of exciting.”

Murray City appeared poised to become the next city to pass a plastic bag ban after soliciting feedback on the issue earlier this year. But council members are now looking into a slightly different approach of charging between $0.05 and $0.10 per bag. They’re waiting to hear back from the city attorney on the legality of such a move, according to the city’s council director.

Salt Lake City, which has among the most aggressive sustainability goals in the state, hasn’t yet passed a plastic bag ban — though the capital city has been encouraging consumers to keep plastic bags out of the recycling stream, since they can clog machines and slow down the overall process.

Sophia Nicholas, a spokeswoman for the city’s sustainability department, said the municipality has instead been prioritizing its demolition and business and multifamily recycling ordinances, as well as increasing general household recycling.

“We really appreciate all of the attention around single-use plastics and plastic bags and so that’s something Salt Lake City wants to support,” she said in an interview. “I think it’s something we could have a conversation about again with the new administration.”

Momentum for the plastic bag ban in Logan grew, in part, because of the efforts of students at Utah State University.

Lorenzo Long, 24, started working to raise public awareness around the issue nearly two years ago as part of an assignment for a sustainability class. When the course ended, Long said he continued working on lobbying for a plastic bag ban, though he wasn’t sure one would ever actually be implemented.

“You hope it will, but especially in a place like Logan that is like most of Utah, pretty conservative, you doubt that kind of a progressive step like this will actually be passed,” he said.

Now graduated and working in Texas, he said it was “unreal” to hear of the vote Tuesday night.

The ordinance applies to plastic bags less than 2.25 mil in thickness provided at a point of sale. It does not regulate bags provided by pharmacists to contain prescription drugs; newspaper, door hanger or laundry bags; reusable bags made of cloth; or bags used by consumers to package bulk items or wrap frozen foods, meat or fish.

The city’s compliance inspector has the primary responsibility for enforcement, with a first violation fee of up to $250 and subsequent violations within the same one-year period of up to $500 each.

Long said he hopes other communities will be inspired to follow Logan’s lead by creating their own ordinances addressing single-use plastics.

“I think it’s an important message for other cities and towns in Utah that not just environmental changes but any positive change that the citizens want to see happen, this is a sign that that can happen,” he said.