Bisbee Kicks Off Plastic Bag Ban

Published: Monday, April 28, 2014 - 12:17am
Updated: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 - 12:33pm
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(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Carrie Behan, an artist-in-residence at the Bisbee Central School Project, takes reusable bags to deliver around town free in 2014.
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Grant Sergot owns Optimo Hatworks and says he'll give out reusable bags. But he adds that there's paperwork required to charge for paper bags.
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Plastic bags still be reused used in Bisbee - like they are in this art piece - but no longer given out by any business.
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Barbara Taylor owns a local gallery and still owns thousands of plastic bags. She says hers are biodegradable and recyclable. She opposes the ban on them.
(Photo by Stina Sieg - KJZZ)
Jenny Druckman has lived in Bisbee for 30 years and was instrumental in bringing the plastic bag ban to town.

Bisbee has officially said “adios” the plastic bags. The quirky, former mining town joins such cities as Los Angeles and Portland. This is the only bag ban in the state of Arizona, but supporters hope it won’t be that way for long.

I was there the first day of the ban, Earth Day, and people were excited about it – at least the High Desert Market and Café in old town. They were downing coffee and pastries and strategizing about where to hand out hundreds of free, reusable bags. Jenny Druckman was part of the small crowd. I asked her how she felt.

“Oh, I feel really proud,” she said. “I’m so happy.”

Druckman is 30-year resident of Bisbee. She came up with the idea to ban the bags a few years ago, at the same time a group of Cochise College students did.

“So, we feel like we’ve made history here in Bisbee, Arizona,” she said.

And that’s sort of Bisbee’s style, explained Mayor Adriana Badal. In a conservative state, the town is an enclave for liberal politics.

“We’ve learned just to take matters in our own hands and do what we need to do to make our communities, you know, healthy, vibrant, safe,” Badal said. “We do need, obviously, the support of the federal government and state government for other projects, but initiatives that we can do ourselves, we tend to do that.”    

Last summer, for example, Bisbee became the first city in Arizona to allow same-sex civil unions. In the following months, a handful of other cities in the state did the same, from Jerome to Tucson.

Badal spoke to media from the U.S., Europe and South America about civil unions back then. She said she’s received attention from outside Arizona about this bag ban, too.

“We’re a tiny little community, but I think we’re having a big impact, all over the world,” she said. “It’s just amazing what can happen when you take a small step.”

But it doesn’t mean everyone is in favor of it. As Badal went from business to business, she popped into Exquisite Designs Originals Gallery. Owner Barbara Taylor told Badal that she values their friendship too much to argue about these reusable bags.

“And so in the meantime, do you want any to give to your customers?” Badal asked.

“No, my customers don’t want them,” Taylor said. “And I don’t want to give them to them.”

After Badal left, Taylor explained why.

She said reusable bags are too heavy and use too much water when washed. If you don’t wash them, she thinks they’re unsanitary. And Taylor worries there is no good alternative now. Paper bags are still legal in Bisbee, but Taylor gave those up long ago because she said she doesn’t like killing trees.

Plus, merchants must charge five cents apiece for paper bags now. Taylor thinks that is going to be a huge shock to out-of-towners, especially those who come for groceries.

“They’re going to be irate,” she said. “And what will they do? They’ll go to Sierra Vista or Douglas the next time to shop.”

So what now? Taylor, who calls herself an old hippie, says go back to plastic bags. She still has thousands of them. She says hers are biodegradable and recyclable. I ask if she’s been giving them out today.

“Well, you can ask that, but I don’t think I’ll answer,” she said, smiling. “I’ll say, ‘Power to the people!’”

And to Taylor, that means planning a petition to repeal the ordinance. But such bans do seem to be gaining speed across the country. A few days after Bisbee’s took effect, a similar law was enacted by another city council — in Chicago.

See all the stories in the Rubbish Series.

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