Brownsville, Texas - This city is becoming the first in Texas to ban single-use plastic bags commonly given to buyers at grocery and retail stores. An ordinance against the urban tumbleweeds starts Wednesday and requires shoppers to bring their own bags or pay a $1 surcharge to use stores' single-use bags.
Plastic bags of a certain thickness and meant for reuse are allowed, however, as are single-use plastic bags designed to prevent contamination from meat, fish and poultry.
Merchants from the big-box national retailers and smaller stores have long sold reusable bags to prepare for the ban, and thousands of bags were given away at prior community events.
A voluntary ban has been in effect since the Brownsville City Commission approved the measure more than a year ago. An expanded ban had been set to take effect Saturday, but was delayed to avoid confusion from the New Year's Day holiday.
City leaders say the move will combat pollution and free up landfill space. Other Texas communities, including Austin and Laredo, have tried and failed to enact measures to reduce plastic bag waste. Brownsville has prepared residents for the ban with billboards and TV spots, which supporters of the measure — including large retailers like H-E-B grocery stores — helped finance.
The ban in Brownsville, across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, Mexico, is being watched across Texas and by retailers around the country to see how well it works. Critics complain the law could unfairly punish residents who can't afford to buy reusable bags.
City leaders say the goal is to phase out the bag surcharge eventually, however, and that customers will only have to pay $1 to use stores' plastic bags until stores use up their remaining stocks and have no more plastic bags to distribute.