San Antonio’s economy has remained steady and prosperous by successfully attracting new businesses and helping existing companies grow. The City has focused on creating new employment opportunities in 21st century industries, maintaining a great quality of life, and facilitating business growth at the local and international level. This is a city working to improve itself. San Antonio has made great strides in terms of supporting clean energy, investing in the SA River Improvements Project (SARIP), and expanding its public transit system. However City officials are lagging behind when it comes to protecting the city’s beauty by fighting plastic bag pollution.
One very serious and expensive environmental problem that San Antonio is facing at the moment is pollution from plastic bags. Single-use checkout bags have harmful impacts on the environment and drain tax dollars as well. Even more, San Antonio residents use more than 1.6 billion plastic bags every single year. At least 80% of these end up in landfills or as litter. While stores don’t charge for the bags, city taxpayers pay for a variety of pollution impacts. They cause damage to recycling facilities, and despite the fact that they are about 1% of the waste stream they cost recyclers as much as 30% of their labor time. They cost local residents as much as 1.3 million a year to control their pollution, and they disproportionately affect low income communities who have fewer resources for pollution control, less recycling and more fragile infrastructure. That 1.3 million could be helping lower income neighborhoods, but instead is being wasted on plastic bag pollution. Even more money is spent on state and federal clean-up efforts, and it is impossible to put a dollar value on the impacts to wildlife killed by plastic bags. It’s clear that convenient plastic bags are not worth the damage that comes with them.
San Antonio’s City Council is now considering a ban on plastic bags at retail checkouts. Several cities across the state have already taken action against single-use bags. The cities of Brownsville, Fort Stockton, Austin, South Padre, and three others in Texas have seen dramatic decreases in bag litter since they passed local ordinances on checkout bags. Because of this supporters and members of the Sierra Club Alamo Group, Texas Campaign for the Environment, and Environment Texas joined with residents of San Antonio to soundly express support for a full ban on single-use plastic bags in San Antonio. Residents testified during the “Citizen’s to be Heard” portion of the June 12th City Council meeting, and no action was taken by council. However efforts are still being made, on June 21st the Blacknote Galleria showed a screening of “Bag It!”, an insightful documentary on the overuse of plastic, to help increase awareness and support for the issue. Here at the Sierra Club we are asking supporters of a ban to contact their city council members and to express their support of a ban at City Council meetings. The City Council Governance Committee will likely hear the issue sometime in August or September, so be sure to contact your council person before then. San Antonio residents deserve a clean city and so they must press their City Council to pass an ordinance ensuring that action is taken to solve this problem.
Plastic bags are a hot topic, not just in Texas but all over the country and in a few others. The main topic of conversation seems to be the paper vs. plastic debate. There are a lot of interesting sides to the argument but I believe this one has a winning conclusion. Ultimately the real fight isn’t against plastic bags but rather doing what is right for the environment. Banning plastic bags is one step towards protecting the environment and protecting our future. It’s rare that we recognize a problem from the very start. Rivers used to be dumpsters until we realized that polluting was harmful to our drinking water. Fields used to be ours for the taking until we realized over-farming was damaging to the integrity of soil. And plastic bags will be used for our convenience until we realize they are hurting our environment.
Written By: Christina Farrell