Alaska’s largest city bans plastic bags, starting next year

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Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, has voted to ban plastic bags starting on March 1st, 2019. (natalie_board/iStock)
Anchorage is joining a growing list of communities around Alaska that ban plastic bags. During a meeting last night, the Anchorage Assembly overwhelming voted to phase out disposable plastic bags within six months.

As the bag ban ordinance has made its way through the Assembly, there’s been general support for it among members, but pointed disagreement about the specifics. Ahead of the 9-2 vote, there was a split on how severe the ban ought to be. And there were differences on the timeline for implementing it. Assembly member Chris Constant pushed aggressively for a tougher version of the measure, one that bars retailers from giving or selling even thick, multi-use plastic bags at the point of sale.

“The fact is that the waste stream is voluminous, and we have an opportunity now to break that cycle,” Constant said.

Members vote for tougher option

That tougher version of the ordinance won out. Under the new rules, retailers can sell customers paper or heavy-duty reusable bags, but they will face fines if they give out thin, single-use plastic ones.

One of the members who lobbied hardest for the milder version of the ban was John Weddleton, himself a business owner. He spoke of the harsh retail environment stores in Anchorage are facing. Though Weddleton’s more modest approach to the ban was ultimately defeated, he still voted for the overall measure.

“I think this is an extreme ban here, more than we needed, but I don’t think it’s a crisis for anyone,” Weddleton said during remarks ahead of the vote.

One of the most direct sentiments offered against taking a moderate approach on the measure came from Lily Spiroski, the youth representative who sits on the body but does not get a vote on proposals. She told Assembly members she reached out to peers in person and through a poll on Instagram.

“And the majority of them are in support of a downright, all out plastic bag ban,” Spiroski said.

Exceptions remain

In spite of opting for stricter provisions, the ordinance has a number of allowances for plastic bag variants, such as those used for produce, meat products, flowers, newspapers, meat products, dry-cleaning and ice. Those and others will still be allowed.

From Wasilla to Koyuk, more than a dozen communities across the state have enacted similar measures recently.

Within the Municipality of Anchorage the bag ban goes into effect March 1st of 2019.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: World Wildlife Fund raises alarm about harmful ‘grey water’ in Canada’s Arctic, CBC News

Finland: Citizens’ initiative prompts Finnish lawmakers to consider microplastics ban, Yle News

Norway: Plastic on Svalbard: “I could never believe it was this bad”, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian Navy sends clean-up team to Arctic trash dump, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish raft made from trash draws attention to plastic pollution, Radio Sweden

United StatesAmerica’s most toxic site is in the Alaskan Arctic, Cryopolitics Blog

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Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media

Zachariah Hughes, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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