A plastic bag seen in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Jake Zuckerman.
The Ohio Senate slid into its state budget proposal a provision to make permanent a temporary ban that blocks cities from taxing the use of plastic grocery bags.
Ohio Republicans since at least 2018 have tried to short-circuit cities from restricting the use of disposable, plastic grocery bags.
Last year, Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law House Bill 242, a temporary, one-year ban on cities from taxing what the law defines as “auxiliary containers:” bags, cans, cups, containers, kegs, bottles or other single-use packaging designed to consume or transport food.
The Senate budget would make permanent this ban, which is set to expire in January 2022.
Several Ohio governments have moved to limit plastic bag use over the past few years. For instance:
- Cuyahoga County banned retailers from providing disposable plastic bags at checkout — they may still provide recyclable paper bags and sell reusable bags.
- Cincinnati restricted grocery stores, restaurants, and similar establishments from providing single-use plastic bags. They must charge at least five cents for any customers who fail to bring reusable bags.
- Bexley banned retailers from using disposable plastic bags. In 2022, the city’s ban on non-recyclable or non-compostable plastic or Styrofoam containers, silverware and straws commences as well.
HB 242 delayed implementation of these proposals. The Senate budget would kill them outright.
At least 125 jurisdictions in 22 states have already adopted some form of control over the distribution of single-use carryout bags, according to legislative testimony last year from the Sierra Club.
Sen. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., then as a representative, sponsored the temporary ban on plastic bag taxes. He said to lawmakers it was “pro-business” legislation that will provide “much-needed clarity for practicing commerce” in Ohio.
Lang, who avoided masks through the pandemic and publicly announced his opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine, said in a House floor speech “it has been proven with empirical data that it is safer and better off for an individual to use a plastic bag” that’s only used once and less likely to transmit the coronavirus.
Powerful retail and plastics industry groups — including the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Manufacturers Association, and the Ohio Chemistry Technology Council — all supported the proposal.
Kristin Mullins, president of the Ohio Grocers Association, told lawmakers that the patchwork of local bans creates a “logistical nightmare” and customer confusion, which may drive off business.
Bexley Mayor Ben Kessler testified against HB 242. He said plastic bags clog up recycling sorting facilities or wind up in landfills and oceans. The taxes, he said, incentivize residents to bring re-usable bags.
“Plastic bags are only used by consumers — on average — for a mere 12 minutes, before being tossed aside to end up in landfills and natural environments,” he said.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 14.5 million tons of plastic containers and packaging became municipal solid waste in 2018 alone.
Cuyahoga County residents dispose of more than 319 million plastic bags per year, according to county officials.
The plastic ban provision did not appear in the House budget proposal. Negotiators from both chambers must hammer out an agreement by the end of the month and send it to Gov. Mike DeWine for approval.
A Senate spokesman did not respond to an inquiry.
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