City of Dubuque re-examines issue of plastic

DUBUQUE — Last month, The Lorian ran an article regarding California’s plastic bag ban, as well as examining Dubuque and what it has done on the issue of plastic bags. However, recent action by the Dubuque City Council has brought the issue back into discussion.

According to the KCRG website, “The Dubuque City Council has unanimously voted to resume a study of plastic bags as officials work to reduce their distribution in the city.” In other words, the project that started several years ago in regards to plastic bags is being revived, and was discussed in a recent City Council meeting.

Mary Rose Corrigan, Public Health Specialist for the City of Dubuque, explained that, back in the fall of 2010 the Environmental Stewardship Commission “requested that the council consider reducing or eliminating plastic bag use within the City of Dubuque because of all the environmental reasons for doing that, and the problems they cause.

The City Council agreed to do that,” and action was taken to tackle the issue of plastic bags, such as formulating a plan for how to deal with the issue and meeting with area retailers to get their input on that plan.

However, the Commission recently asked about the issue, and it was found that progress has “been minimal, because we never really got a tracking strategy going for a variety of reasons, one including we ran into a few retailers that did not want to give us the information on how many plastic bags they were using.”

Bev Wagner, Education Coordinator for the Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency, who also works with Loras College, is part of a task force that was created for the issue of plastic bags. She said that the task force was “given the role of trying to find a way to reduce the amount of bags that would actually be disposed of in Dubuque, not to ban them.”

A reason against a ban is that, “There’s been a lot of pushback when somebody says a ban, because people don’t like being told exactly what they have to do. They’d rather choose to do the right thing,” Wagner noted, though she did say that a ban been brought up as an option, and she also said that there has been progress on the plastic bag issue like more people using reusable bags.

The plastic bag issue isn’t solely a Dubuque issue. Indeed, Loras students are also taking action on the issue. Kristen Thompson, Program Director of Applied Physics and Professor at Loras College, is also the advisor of the Honors Sustainability group for the sophomores, where they’re tackling plastic bags as well.

She says that the group just started, and that, “We’re trying to figure out what direction we wanna go. At the minimum, I’d like to see them create some educational materials, and be able to give out some cloth bags to the community with an information sheet.”

She also mentioned that some retailers like Hy-Vee and Fareway will give you a 5-cent discount for each cloth bag you bring for groceries.

Thompson provided some advice for how to deal with plastic bags, such as “if you do use plastic bags, dispose of them responsibly like take them back to the store … make sure they don’t get blown away … make sure you treat them responsibly, that they are an environmental hazard if released.”

Wagner said that “I don’t think we need to wait for a ban. I think we can all make those choices every day, when we’re out buying things,” using an example of buying one item and declining to receive a bag when we’re in the cashier line, also stating that, “we can all make a difference on our own.”

Corrigan, in addition to bringing up efforts like not taking plastic bags and disposing of them properly, emphasized education on the issue.

“It’s a cultural thing. Once it catches on, I think more and more people will do it, and it’s habit forming,” keeping in mind that it’s something “that takes time for people to remember and get in a regular routine of utilizing reusable bags.”

For the time being, while the city continues its efforts to tackle the plastic bag issue, there are a number of options available that people can use to aid in the effort of reducing plastic bag usage.

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