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St. Croix County says no to plastic bag ban

A proposal from a St. Croix County Board member to prohibit retailers from providing free plastic bags for customer purchases has, at the least, stalled out.

In a report presented to the board Tuesday, the county’s Community Development Department instead recommended “a positive educational approach.” That would involve county staff working with local retailers to encourage more drop-off points for recycling plastic bags and expanding educational efforts to help consumers understand the benefits of recycling or reusing bags.

“I think it woke us up to the fact that there is a recycling effort in the county,” said Supervisor Agnes Ring, Houlton, who chairs the Community Development Committee.

She said the plastic-bag situation may not be the biggest problem involving recyclables and suggested the issue should be looked at strategically.

Hudson Supervisor Buck Malick, who proposed the resolution -- which would have prohibited retailers from providing free plastic bags, except for the original packaging -- said he won’t drop the idea but will, if reelected, come back with something different.

Malick offered these reasons for his proposal:

--Plastic bags are harmful to the environment and hard to recycle.

--In recent years customers have come to accept reusable shopping bags.

--The bags are an expense to retailers.

--Statewide legislation is unlikely without prior local success.

Banning bags would have “a significant impact” on stores, consumers and her department, wrote Community Development Director Ellen Denzer in a report to the board.

She said several of the largest local stores already voluntarily provide recycling bins for plastic bags.

“Banning plastic bags would be a negative reaction to what is currently a very positive environmental activity on the part of retailers,” Denzer reported. She added that consumers often reuse the bags as trash can liners, to collect pet wastes, to carry other items and to line boots.

She also said a ban could put local businesses at a competitive disadvantage with retail businesses just across the border in Minnesota.

“A government ban of a product or good often is the result of a public safety issue or an environmental concern that it well documented and has public support,” said Denzer. “At this time there is no documentation that identifies plastic shopping bags as a significant public safety or environmental issue in St. Croix County.”

Recycling specialist Jon Tulman contacted local municipal wastewater treatment operators and none reported any problems or concerns with plastic bags.

Bob Heise, administrator of the Resource Management Division, contacted the Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist, who “does not think plastic bags are an environmental threat to county fisheries or aquatic life or a significant litter concern in waterways,” added Denzer.

She said a 2010 state study showed plastic shopping bags made up 0.3 percent of landfill wastes, and there have been no complaints from local governments identifying plastic bags as a major concern.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.

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