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San Antonio plastic bag ban update

Here’s an update on the city of San Antonio’s effort to regulate plastic bag usage, which may include a ban. It’s written by San Antonio City Council member Cris Medina, who is the point person for the effort.


Late last year, after multiple conversations with members of the Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee (members are appointed by each City Council member and the Mayor), I became aware of the environmental hazards of single-use plastic bags.

For some time, I had seen plastic bags strewn about our parks, caught in trees, and on frequent occasions, I had picked up countless deteriorating plastic bags during community clean-up events. I was well aware of the eyesore that the 335 plastic bags each American uses per year (U.S. International Trade Commission) cause. What I soon came to learn was that single-use plastics are not biodegrading in our landfills. In fact, many of them are making their way into our waterways and wreaking havoc when wildlife ingest shards of bags.

I also learned about the manufacturing process of plastic bags, which requires an incredible amount of energy, often coming from the burning of fossil fuels. Creation, transport, and use of these bags just one time seems wasteful, wouldn’t you agree?


Recycling is an option, but it is not one that people often use. In 2012, the city’s Solid Waste Management Department initiated a pilot project which had two goals: reduce the number of single-use plastic bags sold at the point-of-sale with the following retailers: JC Penny, H-E-B, Walmart, Target and Walgreens; and increase recycling of single-use plastic bags. The department spent nearly $400,000 on a marketing campaign to convey and encourage implementation of these goals. A 30 percent increase in recycling at the collection bins provided by retailers on-site was accomplished, while no change in the number of single-use plastic bags was had at the point-of-sale. These results mirror results in other cities across the United States.

The reality is that the nearly 100 cities across the county have transitioned away from single-use plastic bags, yet those same cities saw very little increase in recycling curbside or otherwise. San Jose, California, found that only four percent of single-use plastic bags are recycled (City of San Jose, California). The moral of the story here is that while recycling is possible, it is an expensive investment and it is rarely used.

Recycling will be part of our transition. In August of this year, the city will contract with a new recycling vendor who has the proper equipment to sort single-use plastic bags from our blue collection bins.

Through proper handling, San Antonio citizens will be able to recycle single-use plastic bags and other plastic bags, like the ones your produce comes in, by balling multiple bags together and placing that combined apparatus into blue recycle bins. This is an exciting option for San Antonio.

The issue was first discussed last year, and came up again in February but was put off till this month. As we know, multiple cities have taken various approaches to dealing with plastic bags in the past couple of years in Texas. I’m not aware of any studies that have been done to gauge the effectiveness of each approach. I feel confident that Houston will deal with this sooner or later, and it would be nice to know more about how it has gone so far in other cities. One question that I haven’t seen answered anywhere and which is of interest to me as a dog owner is, what is the recommended way to deal with cleaning up after one’s dog if plastic bags are no longer widely available? I presume there’s something, but I haven’t come across it and I haven’t got the fortitude to Google for it right now. Anyone have personal experience with this?

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One Comment

  1. When you think about it, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wrap biodegradable waste in plastic before throwing it in the landfill, it’s just a convenient habit.

    Even under Austin’s bag ban, I’ve found that I’ve still got plenty of various types of bags, packaging, etc., around the house from various consumer products that work just fine. (Paper drink cups are a common one – the missus generates a steady stream of Starbucks leftovers.) Also, in the parks near my house they now have bag dispensers for that purpose.