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Houston Regional Group - News
Feature -


In June the Houston City Council considered adopting an amendment to the budget that would have initiated a process to draft an ordinance banning certain types of retail plastic check out bags. The original proposal specified a time table of approximately one year to develop and consider adoption of the ordinance. In the end the City Council passed an amendment to 'study' options to address the problem of plastic bag pollution, and declined to adopt a specific time table. Opponents of a plastic bag ban argued that a ban would hurt local plastic bag manufacturers, lead to job loss in that industry, and that expanded recycling of plastic bags should be attempted.

Hopefully the City of Houston has taken an important first step, and will now seriously address the problems of plastic bag pollution. We are grateful to Council Member Ed Gonzalez for considering and introducing this measure. Below is the statement of the Houston Sierra Club presented to Houston City Council during the June 19 public comment session. Statement for Houston Sierra Club:

"We strongly urge the City Council to proceed with the process to draft an ordinance to ban single use plastic check out bags at most retail stores. This type of discarded plastic bag litters our streets, highways, public spaces, and our streams and bayous. Bags on the street are washed to storm drains with the next rain, and often lead to blockages, exacerbating local street flooding.

Many school yards and public parks are blighted by these bags, particularly in less affluent neighborhoods. What message does it send to children to grow up in an environment that is constantly littered, or their streams and bayous trashed. When bags are picked up, they are soon replaced by newly discarded bags. It's an endless cycle.

Discarded plastic bags are a real environmental threat. Bags end up in waterways and eventually in bays and oceans. Bag pieces are mistaken as food by many forms of wildlife, often leading to their death. Plastic is very slow to break down, and plastic debris is accumulating at ever increasing rates in the oceans. Also some forms of plastic contain compounds that are harmful to health, and those harmful compounds can bio-accumulate when ingested by wildlife. Eventually these enter the human food chain. For more information on the hazards of plastic pollution, we recommend the documentary film 'Addicted to Plastic".

A growing number of cities across the country, including here in Texas are taking steps to curb plastic bag use.

Recycling plastic bags is difficult. Only a small percentage will actually get recycled. Most wind up in the trash, and then a landfill. Recyclers don't like them, because they can jam and damage sorting equipment.

On a personal note, every day when I walk my dog, I pick up plastic bags off the street, out the gutter, and out of storm drains. I am weary of the current situation that requires citizen volunteers and the taxpayer to clean up discarded bags. That is just inherently unfair. And even then many plastic bags never get picked up, but end up down a storm drain, then into a bayou.

I've been using reusable shopping bags for over 15 years now. It wasn't really a difficult adjustment. Actually it simplified my life. I no longer had to store accumulated plastic bags and try to find a place to recycle them. Reportedly it takes approximately 3 weeks to adopt a new habit. After my initial adjustment period, bringing my reusable bags to the store became second nature."

by Frank Blake

Last updated:  11/20/2011.   Content 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.