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Bag it Duluth's view: Time to mend that part of the world within our reach

Jamie Harvie

In June, under pressure from the Minnesota Grocers Association and the Plastic Bag Alliance, Minnesota lawmakers enacted preemption legislation, which took away local control, preventing any community in Minnesota from passing laws to phase out single-use plastic bags.

The presumption that Duluth and other cities are not wise enough to make the right choice for themselves or future generations was shocking.

Research shows that more than 20 million pounds of plastics enter the Great Lakes annually; that plastic fragments are now pervasive in the waters of the St. Louis River and Park Point, with impacts on aquatic life; and that Duluth shoppers use a conservative estimate of $750,000 per year of single-use grocery bags — about the same cost to buy every citizen in Duluth 10 reusable bags annually. Where is the wisdom in preemption?

Equally confusing is that this same Legislature approved $25 million (triggering an additional $47 million in federal funding) to accelerate the cleanup of legacy pollution in the St. Louis River. While this vote can be applauded, it highlights the shortsightedness of the preemption legislation. When we consider the hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and the countless decades of volunteer time invested in the cleanup of the St. Louis River, why would we want to leave plastic, another legacy pollution, to our grandchildren? We are smarter than that.

The Bag it Duluth Campaign, which launched in early 2017 with a proposal to promote reusables and phase out single-use plastic bags, has held listening sessions for businesses, educational events at Rotary meetings, and film screenings at churches and schools. We presented to Leadership Duluth and supported and encouraged reusable bag collection events and the delivery of many hundreds of bags to local social services organizations.

Because of their prominence in the local grocery marketplace and our belief that we share similar values, the Duluth-based owners of Super One were contacted multiple times by our group with letters and phone calls.

In April, Bag it Duluth supporters overflowed the City Council Chambers to hear experts representing retail, faith, youth, and the scientific communities testify to councilors on the need for action.

In response to preemption, Bag it Duluth is ready with a new proposal for the City Council that complies with state law and that would accomplish the same goals. With a variety of exemptions, we are proposing a local ordinance that would place a minimum charge on both plastic and paper bags, kept by the retailer. We are in conversation with a local foundation to explore a dedicated zero-waste fund for any retailer or citizen who would prefer to donate savings to fund the cost of reusable bags or to fund other zero-waste initiatives.

Instead of throwing money and plastic away annually, we can reinvest in our future.

Mayor Emily Larson, in her State of the City Address this year, offered wise counsel: "Our task is not to try to fix the whole world at once but to mend that part of the world that is within our reach."

As 40 countries and more than 160 cities and states across the United States have already passed similar legislation regarding single-use, carry-out bags, we believe the new Bag it Duluth proposal helps to mend that part of the world that is within our reach.

Please ask your city councilors and state representatives where they stand on this issue.

ABOUT THE CAMPAIGN

The local, grassroots Bag it Duluth Campaign is supported by more than 70 organizations representing businesses, retailers, communities of faith, higher education, PTAs, outdoor recreation, and more.

To learn more about the campaign, visit its website at www.bagitduluth.org.

Jamie Harvie is the Bag it Duluth Campaign's coordinator.

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