State Supreme Court Takes Up Bag Ban

A decades-old dispute between Texas cities and state officials over plastic grocery bags has finally made its way to the state Supreme Court.

At least 10 Texas cities, including Austin, Brownsville and Lardeo, have passed ordinances outlawing single-use plastic bags in grocery and retail stores. Merchants and manufacturers say cities can’t do that, citing the 1993 Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act. But the cities argue it’s a local issue.

Robin Schneider, executive director of Texas Campaign for the Environment, said there’s a lot riding on the court’s decision.

“The issue is whether this ’93 law that says local governments can’t regulate containers or packaging for solid waste management purposes, whether that encompasses these laws or not,” Schneider said.

Environmental groups have long sought to ban thin, plastic bags as a major source of pollution, a danger to fish and animals, and a hazard in the devices that sort recycling materials. Manufacturers say the bags generate almost $70 billion in annual revenue and employ 75,000 Texans. They contend that a bag ban is an illegal restraint of trade.

The Texas high court could rule in July.

Schneider said the case, pitting the city of Laredo against the Laredo Merchants Association, brought together an unusual coalition supporting the city ordinances.

“For the first time, many anglers and recycling and composting businesses, and other kinds of folks came together in a public way, to tell the Supreme Court that these bag ordinances should stand,” she said.

Since most of the court justices live in Austin, she noted they are likely familiar with the benefits of removing bags from the environment.

“I’m sure many of these justices, if they don’t live here full-time, they spend a good amount of time here. They’ve seen a bag ordinance in action,” Schneider said. “They, I’m sure, can tell that there’s a lot less single-use bags in the environment than there used to be.”

In its past two sessions, the Texas Legislature has considered bills that would have blocked cities from banning plastic bag use, but the measures didn’t pass.

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