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Duluth approves plastic bag fee

The charge will not apply to people enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children Program or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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(Getty images)

Duluth now is poised to become the second city in the state requiring retailers to charge a fee for single-use bags they dispense to customers.

By a 6-2 vote Monday night, the Duluth City Council approved an ordinance that mandates stores to charge shoppers a nickel per plastic bag they provide.

The ordinance largely mirrors a similar measure passed by the Minneapolis City Council just three days previous, except that down there the fee will apply to both plastic and paper bags.

The fee is intended to encourage shoppers to turn to reusable tote bags, thereby reducing the waste stream and slowing the accumulation of plastic particles in the Great Lakes.

Councilor Em Westerlund, who brought forward the ordinance, said: "This ordinance, for me, is not about taxation. "

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The fee would be collected and retained by businesses, and none of the funds would flow into city coffers. But she said a modest fee has been shown to be an effective tool for changing behavior in other cities, prompting people to make use of reusable bags.

The idea is to annoy you just enough that maybe you remember your bags next time.

"It is supposed to be vexing, because it's supposed to motivate you to make a different choice," Westerlund said. "The idea is to annoy you just enough that maybe you remember your bags next time, or maybe you make the choice to carry out your two items, instead of having them bagged."

The charge will not apply to people enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children Program or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Jamie Harvie, a coordinator for Bag It Duluth, a group advocating for the measure, said: "Tonight, let's take a step forward. Let's protect our beaches, our fish, our lake, our stormwater infrastructure for future generations. Let's become the sustainable city we call ourselves. Let's pass this reusable bag ordinance unanimously tonight."

But the council clearly was not unanimous in its decision.

Voting for the ordinance were Councilors Gary Anderson, Zack Filipovich, Noah Hobbs, Barb Russ, Joel Sipress and Westerlund.

Two councilors dissented: Renee Van Nett and Arik Forsman.

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Van Nett expressed concern about the impact the fee may have on some of her constituents living in or near the edge of poverty, saying: "I definitely have an issue with poverty and people in poverty who I represent."

Meanwhile, Forsman said: "While this room is very supportive of this initiative, Duluth as a whole has very mixed opinions on it. I think there's a general consensus in the community that we should do something about plastics, and that we can do things locally. But it's clear to me that there's deep division within Duluth about whether this bag fee is the right something."

Councilor Jay Fosle was absent from Monday's meeting.

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
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