Community bans on single-use plastic bags may become obsolete after the Ohio House of Representatives last week passed a bill taking away local control of that issue. With a plastic bag ban already in effect in Orange Village and a Cuyahoga County ban set to begin Jan. 1, local leaders are closely watching House Bill 242 as it moves to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

HB 242 was introduced in May by co-sponsors Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester, and Rep. Don Jones, R-Freeport. The State and Local Government Committee recommended it for passage in June by an 8-6 vote.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the statehouse does not understand the emerging crisis from plastic pollution and how it is impacting Lake Erie, our waterways and our landfills,” Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Sunny Simon said, “not only in Cuyahoga County but throughout the state.”

County ban

Cuyahoga County council approved the plastic bag ban in May to go into effect Jan. 1. But Ms. Simon said that after holding roundtable discussions with retailers, the county council decided to delay enforcement until July 1.

Local businesses, including Heinen’s Fine Foods, have voiced concerns that paper bags cost more than plastic. Heinen’s has 11 locations throughout the county, and the company will incur an additional $2 million to $3 million cost per year to switch to paper bags, according to co-owner Jeff Heinen. In an interview with the Times earlier this year, Mr. Heinen said that a plastic bag costs 2 cents and a paper bag costs 11 cents.

Mr. Heinen also said in a previous interview that the problem is not paper versus plastic, it’s reusable versus disposable. He said that paper bags are still thrown away after they are used once and pollute the environment. Retailers, he said, should work with local leaders to encourage consumers to use reusable bags. Ms. Simon said that Heinen’s has seen a 72-percent increase in reusable bag sales since the county bag ban was approved.

“We’re working with local grocery stores so they can continue to profit,” Ms. Simon said.

Giant Eagle this week announced a pilot program with a goal of ending the use of plastic bags by 2025.

Cleveland’s out, Orange thrives

Earlier this month, Cleveland City Council voted to opt out of the county plastic bag ban until July 1 to research other alternatives. State Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, represents a small portion of Cleveland in addition to Orange Village, which passed the first plastic bag ban in the state one year ago. Rep. Brent voted against HB 242 and said that she does not support Cleveland’s action to opt out from the county ban. She explained that Cleveland council representatives did not voice any concerns during the two years that the Cuyahoga council members discussed and then took action on the plastic bag-ban proposal.

“It was done very cold turkey. They should have had conversations about their concerns,” Rep. Brent said last week. “Their concern didn’t come two years later. They must have always had it.”

Ms. Simon said that Cleveland council’s action will not immediately impact the county ban since enforcement has been delayed until July 1, the same time that Cleveland’s opt out ends.

Orange Village was the first municipality in the state to approve a ban on single-use plastic bags, which began in April. Council President Brandon Duber, who introduced this legislation, said that Orange’s bag ban is successful.

“I have heard nothing except positive reviews on what we’ve done in Orange. I haven’t heard a single complaint about it,” he said last week. “People who weren’t in favor or were down the middle initially, including our Mayor [Kathy Mulcahy], have had a 180 (degree turn) on this.”

Mr. Duber said that Cleveland City Council’s action likely leads back to Mayor Frank Jackson and Council President Kevin Kelley and their “misunderstanding” of the issue.

“I think that is pathetic,” Mr. Duber said. “That is weak and the council president should be ashamed of himself.”

Home rule

State Rep. Phil Robinson, D-Solon, also voted against HB 242 saying the legislation undermines local control and the will of the people.

“I do support home rule, and I thought the Republicans did as well,” he said last week.

Rep. Robinson said that the bill also is dangerous for the environment because it does not allow local governments to implement practices to reduce waste and clean up pollution in the environment.

According to Rep. Brent, the 133rd General Assembly has put too much emphasis on taking away local control. She said that Ohio has various regions and the same rules cannot be applied to each one.

“Every time we do something like this, we say ‘local control means nothing,’” she said. “What works in one part of the state doesn’t work in other parts.”

Pollution

State Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, represents Woodmere and other eastern suburbs and voted against HB 242. He cited a study from the Rochester Institute of Technology, which states that 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year from the U.S. and Canada. He said that Cuyahoga County, which has 30 miles of coastline on Lake Erie, should be allowed to clean up plastic pollution.

“It’s really bad public policy,” Rep. Smith said on Dec. 12. “Local leaders are elected to make local decisions. The ‘Columbus knows best’ approach usually doesn’t work.”

Ms. Simon and Rep. Smith also noted that Lake Erie is the second most plastic polluted lake of the Great Lakes. Rep. Brent said that a multitude of scientific facts show that plastic is polluting local waterways. The best solution, she said, will be a compromise to clean up the environment and allow businesses to turn a profit.

“If we put [plastic bags] in landfills, it takes 400 to 1,000 years to dissolve and we don’t have that amount of time,” she said. “Plastic isn’t going anywhere. We need to find a way to be less harmful.”

Future steps

Rep. Brent plans to introduce legislation to mandate the Ohio EPA come up with a better recycling process, including an easier method to recycle materials and finding end users for the products. Without an end user for recycled commodities, she said, plastic sits in a landfill.

Ms. Simon said that the county council will begin its educational campaign in January so community members are aware of the ban and how they can adapt to it. She said that the county is waiting on 25,000 reusable bags to be delivered that will be passed out throughout the county. The county will also partner with the local chapter of the Sierra Club and the Ohio Environmental Council to hold informative forums.

“We’re really excited to see Cuyahoga County be able to step up into the future and join the rest of the world and protect our greatest natural resource,” she said.

The state representatives said that Gov. DeWine may veto HB 242 if the bill is approved by the Senate. Upon taking office last year, the governor named cleaning up pollution in Lake Erie and other waterways as one of his priorities.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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