Three weeks ago, Orange Village Council President Brandon Duber gave a valiant speech as to why council should ban plastic bags in the village. Now, after the Ohio House voted to block local bans on plastic bags, village officials are unsure of their next steps.
Mr. Duber introduced an ordinance on Nov. 14 requiring all businesses within the village to stop using single-use plastic bags. Instead, the proposed ordinance states that businesses can only offer a reusable carryout bag or a permitted paper bag that is made of 40 percent recycled content and is 100 percent recyclable.
Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 625 that blocks local municipalities, such as Orange, from implementing bans and fees on plastic bags and containers.
The bill must now be approved by the Ohio Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law.
Orange Mayor Kathy Mulcahy said that she was aware of this possibility when Mr. Duber introduced his ordinance and suggested more research be done until the state Senate takes action. But Mr. Duber made it clear that he is not backing down and is up for any challenge from the state.
“I stand by my statement and we should fight this fight,” he said. “I’m just flabbergasted that our legislature is doing this. It’s disgusting.”
There are various issues surrounding the House’s block on local ordinances, including home rule, pollution and recycling practices.
Mr. Duber said that the Ohio House is not allowing local municipalities to govern themselves as permitted in Article 18 of the Ohio Constitution.
Article 18 states, “Municipalities shall have authority to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws.”
Orange Village Law Director Steve Byron said that the village has the authority to enact regulations for health and safety that the state has not done yet. Mr. Byron said that council was considering the plastic bag ban under that authority, but if the state makes plastic bags legal for commerce, then Orange cannot have a conflicting ordinance.
Since the Ohio Senate has not acted on the bill as of yet, Mr. Byron said that Orange can still exercise its police power.
“There’s a certain point where municipalities have to stand up to this,” Mr. Duber said. “We should be able to govern our community in the way we were elected to govern it.”
Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Sunny Simon introduced an ordinance in 2017 proposing a fee of 10 cents per plastic or paper bag that a customer takes at the point of sale. The revenue from the fee would be spent on cleaning up Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, Councilwoman Simon explained, and to provide well-paying jobs for workers to eradicate local plastic pollution.
There are various exemptions for the bag fee, including pharmacy bags, dry cleaning bags and bags used for meat and produce. Customers who show an Electronic Benefit Transfer card to prove that they are enrolled in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP would be exempt from the fee.
The county proposed ordinance was tabled until the state legislature takes final action on HB 625.
District 12 State Rep. John Barnes, D-Cleveland, voted in favor of HB 625 stating that charging customers for plastic bags would burden poor people and would not generate significant funds.
“It’s not going to generate enough funds for any meaningful impact on pollution abatement,” he said.
Rep. Barnes also said that his vote is not meant to take away municipalities’ home rule authority. Rather, he said, plastic bag bans would have a negative impact on the population and there are alternative methods to combat pollution, such as using biodegradable bags.
Mr. Duber said that he chose not to pursue a plastic bag tax because it would be passed onto the consumer.
Ms. Simon said that the county council has spent time learning how plastic impacts environmental health.
“Lake Erie is an asset to northeast Ohio,” she said. “We need to make sure it remains pristine and inhabitable for wildlife and future generations.”
Plastic ends up in lakes and streams, according to studies.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are growing hazards of plastic pollution, including physical and chemical threats. Plastics in bodies of water can cause entanglement for animals, gastrointestinal damage and reef destruction. Chemical threats include bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals in plastics.
“Plastic pollution is a careless problem that will affect human and environmental health. You can’t fix the damage that has already been done,” Ms. Simon said. “All we can do is stop single-use behavior and be stewards of the environment. People need to understand that this is not something to take lightly.”
As plastic pollution grows, the importance of recycling rises. So why not just support recycling plastic bags?
Orange Service Director Bob Zugan explained that recycled materials, including paper, glass, cans, cardboard and plastic bottles and jars, go to a materials recovery facility where conveyor belts are used to sort materials and plastic bags can easily get stuck in the equipment. Mr. Zugan said that the plant may have to be shut down while plastic bags are untangled.
Many refuse companies do not allow plastic bags in customer recycling bins for this reason. Grocery stores are one of the few places that accept plastic bags for recycling.
Orange has a contract with Kimble, and their recycling facility is in Twinsburg.
Mr. Duber said that he intends on moving forward with his ordinance despite HB 625.