CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County residents will soon say goodbye to plastic bags as the county council banned single-use sacks at retail stores in an 8-3 vote last week.

But the ban effective on Jan. 1 could be costly to area merchants.

“This is one of the most important pieces of legislation that this county council will ever pass,” county Council President Dan Brady said during the May 28 meeting.

Nearly 10 audience members spoke in support of the plastic bag ban, which would force businesses, including grocery stores, to use mostly paper bags. The legislation has some exceptions.

Jeff Heinen, co-owner of Heinen’s Fine Foods, said the ban could cost his grocery store chain an additional $2 million annually due to the difference in price of plastic and paper bags. One plastic bag costs 2 cents while a paper bag costs 11 cents each, Mr. Heinen said in a phone interview with the Times.

“Our hope is that they look at this from a more comprehensive perspective,” he said.

Heinen’s has 11 locations across Cuyahoga County, including stores in Chagrin Falls, Cleveland, Mayfield Village, Pepper Pike, Shaker Heights and University Heights.

The ordinance bans disposable plastic bags and non-permitted paper bags in retail establishments at the point of sale for transporting goods. In order to qualify as a permitted paper bag, which stores will have to use after the ban goes into effect next year, a bag must be made from at least 40 percent recycled content and be 100 percent recyclable.

The ban on disposable plastic bags includes a number of exceptions, such as bags used to keep newspapers dry, prescription drug bags, dry cleaning bags and bags used to wrap flowers and meat when purchased, according to the ordinance. The legislation is based heavily on the plastic bag ban that Orange Village passed in December of 2018, which went into effect in April.

The ordinance also lists penalties for businesses that violate the plastic bag ban. The first violation will be a written warning and a second violation would result in a fine up to $100. For subsequent violations, there will be a civil fine of up to $500. The Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs will enforce the plastic bag ban and citations for violating the ban may be appealed to the Cuyahoga County Deparment Review Board, according to the ordinance.

Decision makers

Councilwoman Sunny Simon, a sponsor of the plastic bag ban, said that the county council needs to carry on the legacy of former Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes to protect the environment. She said that when Mr. Stokes was mayor in the late 1960s, he knew that the city’s future was dependent on environmental regulations. The Cuyahoga River caught fire 50 years ago, she said, and plastic bags are today’s major environmental hazard.

“We will not solve the whole problem but it’s a huge start and it will make a difference,” she said. “Just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.”

Councilwomen Cheryl Stephens and Shontel Brown and Councilmen Dale Miller and Pernel Jones also co-sponsored the bill.

District 6 Councilman Jack Schron voted against the plastic bag ban, stating that these plastic bags are not “single-use.” He said that he is committed to environmental protection, but wants council to consider an alternative to banning plastic bags. When people receive a plastic bag at a store checkout, he said, they may reuse that bag to line their trash can. If plastic bags are banned, he said that people will purchase more plastic bags anyways to meet their needs.

Mr. Schron said that the Jan. 1 start date is too soon for businesses to make the adjustment. He said that he spoke with Mr. Heinen and representatives from Dave’s Markets and Giant Eagle, who said that the ban will significantly impact their bottom line.

Mr. Schron represents Chagrin Valley communities including Solon, Bentleyville, Chagrin Falls, Gates Mills and Hunting Valley. Councilwoman Nan Baker and Councilman Michael Gallagher also voted against the plastic bag ban.

Mr. Heinen said that county council and businesses should work to encourage customers to use reusable bags more often, rather than switching from plastic to paper. He explained that banning plastic bags will drive up the use of paper bags, which will still be thrown away after they are used. Ms. Simon introduced similar legislation for a fee on plastic bags two years ago. Mr. Heinen said that he supported that because it gave customers a choice to pay the fee or not.

“We recognize plastic is an environmental concern, however a plastic bag ban doesn’t seem to be an effective solution,” Mr. Heinen said. “Most experts believe paper bags have equal to or a greater impact on the environment, so switching from one type of bag to another does not accomplish a whole lot.”

Action on state level

On May 13, Ohio House Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester and Don Jones, R-Freeport introduced House Bill 242, which would block local bans on plastic bags. The bill does not explicitly state that local governments cannot pass a plastic bag ban, but says that people may use auxiliary containers (plastic bags) for commerce, according to A.J. Thomas, legislative aide to Rep. Jones.

HB 242 includes various types of local governments that could not pass a plastic bag ban, and mentions counties with a charter government, such as Cuyahoga County, townships and municipalities. This bill could also affect Orange Village’s plastic bag ban.

The bill was assigned to the State and Local Government Committee in the Ohio House, but members have yet to submit a report.

Marcia Goldberg of the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland told county council members prior to the vote that her group supports the ban and asked council to support it as well.

Emily Patterson, 24, of Kent said during the public comment portion of the meeting last week that the ban should be approved. Ms. Patterson is an epidemiologist and the executive director of the Litterbugz, a nonprofit organization based in Broadview Heights that encourages environmental conservation.

“I encourage you as our county’s council to take into account the facts of this matter. Single-use plastic bags negatively impact our environment,” Ms. Patterson said. “The Litterbugz and myself support the countywide ban as a policy intervention.”

Delores Lenczewski, 58, of Garfield Heights said that she is thrilled that the ban passed. Retail establishments will survive despite the higher price of paper bags.

Consumers and businesses have six months to prepare for the ban effective the first day of 2020.

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

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