Getting groceries home in New Orleans soon could become more expensive for shoppers who don’t supply their own bags.
City Councilwomen Susan Guidry and LaToya Cantrell introduced an ordinance last week that would require retailers to charge customers for both plastic and paper bags — a move aimed at encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.
“We have worked for 10 years to rebuild a stronger, smarter New Orleans, and the Reusable Bag Ordinance reflects our commitment to a more sustainable future for our city,” Guidry said in a statement. “Single-use bags produce a significant amount of waste in our city and are easily replaced with affordable, reusable options.”
The measure would require merchants to charge at least 10 cents for each plastic bag and at least 5 cents for every paper bag that isn’t 100 percent recyclable and made up of at least 40 percent recycled material.
The money collected would go to the businesses, according to the ordinance.
The aim is to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags. There has been a trend in many places toward use of those bags, with some grocery chains selling their own branded totes.
The ordinance includes exceptions for a wide variety of items, including bags for take-out food; containers for meats, seafood, bulk items or other foods packaged in stores; trash bags; dry cleaning bags; and, of course, Mardi Gras bead bags.
Shoppers who benefit from public assistance programs such as food stamps or the Women, Infants and Children program would not have to pay the additional fees.
The city’s Department of Safety and Permits would be charged with enforcing the rules. Businesses that do not follow the ordinance would be subject to a $100 fine for a first offense and $500 for subsequent violations.
Moves to restrict the use of plastic bags have been growing in cities across the country, particularly over the past five years. The measures are largely intended to cut down on what advocates see as unnecessary waste that goes into landfills or litters streets and waterways.
More than 160 municipalities and Hawaii have some form of restriction on the use of plastic bags by retailers, according to the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental organization focused on protecting oceans and beaches that supports bans or fees for plastic bags.
The New Orleans ordinance references those efforts, saying passage of a fee for bags in Washington, D.C., cut down the use of single-use bags by between 50 percent and 70 percent.
“We’ve seen the tremendous impact these bags have on urban environments across the country,” Cantrell said. “We have a huge litter problem in our city. This is a way to move our city toward being more environmentally conscious and litter free.”
Most of the regulations in other cities ban plastic bags altogether and require that paper bags be purchased, though some are limited to imposing fees on both types of bags.
There’s also been some pushback. Florida enacted a law in 2008 that prevents local governments from imposing restrictions on plastic bags.
Cantrell said the local ordinance would be paired with an anti-litter educational campaign.
“There’s a real need for us to do public awareness and education around how we can be more conscious of our environment,” she said.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.