Retailers file last-minute lawsuit to stop Austin, Texas, plastic bag ban

By: Gayle S. Putrich

February 27, 2013

AUSTIN, TEXAS – A ban on single-use plastic bags in Austin is coming under fire from retailers before it can even go into effect.

With the ban set to begin on Friday, March 1, the Texas Retailers Association filed a lawsuit against the city Monday in Travis County Court, claiming the ban violates state law and seeking an injunction to keep it from going into effect.

The lawsuit claims a provision of the Texas health and safety code prevents local governments from banning or restricting "for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law." The city of Austin did not even attempt to get permission from the state before enacting the ban, the lawsuit says.

The Austin City Council passed the ban in March 2012, planning for it to go into effect one year later to give businesses time to prepare. Local retailers opposed the ban, saying they preferred the expansion of voluntary in-store recycling programs to cut down on waste and litter. In the suit, the retailers' association says business that still have a large stock of plastic bags they cannot use will be harmed financially and that all Austin businesses run the risk of losing customers to nearby stores in locations where they do not have to supply their own bag.

The city says the ordinance, which was approved unanimously by the council, is not a ban and that it is supposed to regulate the types of bags that businesses can provide to customers while encouraging a shift to reusable bags.

"We've received the lawsuit and are prepared to defend the ordinance," says a statement from the city. "We stand behind the intent of the ordinance and do not believe it poses a hardship to affected businesses. The city is committed to working with businesses to help them comply with the ordinance and offers a number of resources to make this process as easy as possible.

Bags greater than 4 mil in thickness – because studies show they can be used as many as 100 times – as well as paper bags made from at least 40 percent recycled content are still permitted under the ordinance, explained Courtney Black, public information for Austin's waste management and recycling department. Produce bags, dry cleaning bags and some restaurant take-out bags are exempt under the measure.