House poised to prohibit plastic bag bans, fees

LANSING — One community calls its action to reduce the number of plastic bags floating along county roads a model of environmentalism.

But the Michigan Legislature is one step away from prohibiting local communities from banning or imposing fees on plastic bags in their community.

►Related:Mich. Senate votes to halt local bans on plastic bags

“It’s a money grab by a community,” said state Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, who sponsored the bill, which passed out of the House Commerce Committee on an 11-6 vote Tuesday. “To put a fee on their citizens, to me, is not an acceptable practice as we try to move Michigan in a better direction.”

►Related:Plastic bags fuel tug of war between state, locals

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners approved an ordinance in June that would impose a 10-cent fee on most plastic bags used by retailers to package goods for customers. Exceptions would be made for low-income residents and for plastic bags used to wrap frozen foods, meat or fish, newspapers and laundry dry cleaning, pet waste bags or bags used to prevent spills from prepared foods such as soups or salads. Unredcoridic The ordinance was to take effect next April.

The county estimates it costs about $200,000 a year to deal with plastic bags in the community, not only cleaning them up, but also because of downtime when the bags clog up recycling machinery.

“It’s clear that there’s an environmental cost,” said Sean Hammond, deputy policy director at the Michigan Environmental Council. “And this takes away any innovative local solutions.”

But the business community was squarely in support of the bill, saying that consistency is needed across the state.

“With many of our members owning and operating many locations across the state, a ban on plastic bags in one community would be a logistical nightmare,” said Robert O’Meara, spokesman for the Michigan Restaurant Association.

Linda Gobler, president of the Michigan Grocers  Association, said allowing communities to set their own rules “would create a confusing hodgepodge of regulation. Profit margins are already slim for grocery stores. And when you see increased mandates and costs, those get passed on to the customer.”

The bill — SB 853 — passed out of committee on a mostly party-line vote with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. It now moves to the full House for a final passage vote.