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1:28 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Is it time to toss plastic bags for good?

Plastic shopping bags are often caught on fences and vegetation around Kingman, such as this area on Airway Avenue. Walmart and Smith’s managers have told the city they’d be willing to support a plastic bag ban. (RYAN ABELLA/Miner)

Plastic shopping bags are often caught on fences and vegetation around Kingman, such as this area on Airway Avenue. Walmart and Smith’s managers have told the city they’d be willing to support a plastic bag ban. (RYAN ABELLA/Miner)

KINGMAN - Paper, plastic or personal shopping bag?

That's what the Clean City Commission in Kingman has been contemplating over the past few months. The group has been looking at plastic bag bans in other communities to see if it's a viable solution to plastic bag litter in Kingman.

"We were approached last year by a resident to see the plastic bag ban be implemented," said Rich Ruggles, staff liaison to the Clean City Commission in Kingman. "There's only one other city, Bisbee, that has it. Flagstaff has been looking at it for a couple of years. It's something we're researching and we're continuing to research."

There are no specific plans yet, and the commission might hold a public hearing to get the community's input before moving forward.

So far, the commission has spoken to the managers at Wal-Mart and Smith's. Both managers would support a ban on plastic bags.

Plastic bags are a common sight in lots and on fences near most of the major supermarkets in Kingman, and it takes efforts from businesses and the community to clean them up.

Models to follow

There are plenty of cities to model a ban after, with plastic bag bans or fees increasing tenfold over the last five years.

Nearly 50 million Americans live in a city that has some form of plastic bag ban, with the majority of them living in California, according to the Earth Policy Institute. That state was the first in the nation to implement a statewide ban in 2014. The ban faced heavy opposition and has since been delayed until 2016, when voters can decide if it will stand.

In the meantime, the Clean City Commission has been looking at alternative methods of reducing plastic bag litter. One of their programs involves buying hundreds of reusable bags, pursuing matching donations from stores and handing out the bags to residents to use.

Ruggles estimates that about 400 bags have been distributed since starting the program. The bags retail for around $1.50 at most major stores.

The commission has also been pushing to recycle plastic bags, either through the city or at many of the local grocery stores.

Ed Tapia, sanitation director for the city of Kingman, said that the city collects "between 70-80 pounds of plastic bags a day" at their community recycling drop sites around town.

Drop sites are also located at many local grocery stores, often stationed near the entrance and clearly marked as a recycling bin for bags.

Multiple uses

"We kinda go by the motto 'reduce, reuse, recycle,'" said Tim McCabe, president of the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance.

"A lot of people keep them in their house to use them again. They are not single use. What we're trying to do is cut back on the plastic bags when you're using them. Do you really need eight? Can you put more items in the bag? Educate the consumer on how you can reduce, reuse, and recycle."

The group works with stores to help establish these recycling drop points. Customers can drop bags off there, and the grocery store will use its trucks to ship the plastic bags back to their distribution centers for recycling.

Bags can be melted down to make new plastic bags. Other companies can also use the bags to create composite lumber or playground equipment.

While plastic bags are a large problem when it comes to blowing around or degrading in landfills, McCabe says that the controversy surrounding bags is due to how visible plastic bag litter is. Paper bags are just as bad in landfills, and both types of bags combined make up very little of what gets thrown away.

"What people don't realize is that they represent 1 percent of litter," he said. "Our focus on recycling right now is on food waste. It's a bigger problem than plastic. We are looking for solutions to deal with it."