Dubuque, Iowa is a long way from California. Although not on the ocean, it is located on another body of water: The Mighty Mississippi River. Problem in common? Plastic bags.
A member of an environmental committee that wants Dubuque to consider banning plastic shopping bags said it's time to look at options to the oil-based products.
The City Council is considering banning the bags by 2014. The recommendation was made on Tuesday by the Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee. The council voted to forward the issue to city staff for further review.
Committee member Chad Oberdoerster told the Telegraph Herald that the group will be happy to work with the council on different solutions to the issue of paper or plastic.
"We don't necessarily need government to do a big dictatorial ban," he said.
Jerry Fleagle, president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, said his organization studied the issue for two years before starting a program with grocery stores that encourages consumers to return their plastic bags.
The stores bale the bags and ship them to a recycling company, where they're used in playground equipment, parking lot bumpers and other products.
The goal is to decrease the use of plastic bags and increase recycling.
"Rather than an outright ban, we think we can reach the same goals through a cooperative and voluntary program," Fleagle said.
Paul Schultz, the city's resource management coordinator, said plastic, which includes shopping bags, bread bags, shrink wrap and other products, makes up about 4 percent of the material buried in the landfill. He estimates 25 percent of that is shopping bags.
"Psychologically, people know plastic isn't the best thing, but they haven't changed their behavior," Schultz said.
Hy-Vee spokeswoman Ruth Comer said the grocery store chain's policy is to promote reusable cloth bags, something customers have to embrace to make a difference.
"We have promotions that encourage people to make these lifestyle changes on their own, and we think that is more effective than bans or punitive measures," she said.
Comer said Hy-Vee hasn't seen an overall reduction in the amount of plastic used because of the company's growth, but more customers are using cloth bags.