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Soldotna closes plastic bag ban loophole

Alaska Public Media file photo

The City of Soldotna voted to close a loophole in its plastic bag ban during a Wednesday night city council meeting.

The city first passed a bag ban in 2018 to reduce plastic waste. Now, it’s taking a look at how the policy could be more effective. Council Member Jordan Chilson sponsored the ordinance.

“This new code, when established in 2018, did a number of things,” he said Wednesday. “First and foremost, it sought to reduce plastic bags by preventing the distribution of single-use plastic bags with some exceptions, and instead encourage the use of reusable or recyclable bags.”

Chilson said the code change had a positive impact, and many Soldotna retailers have transitioned to using paper bags. But a definition from the policy has created a loophole.

The original ordinance defined disposable plastic bags by thickness, as being under 2.25 mils. Some businesses started to offer bags just over that thickness.

“I think it had good intentions, but the reality is that unfortunately, when those thicker plastic bags were distributed in the community with the intent of being reusable, the unfortunate outcome was that people were still using them in a disposable manner,” Chilson said. “The end result being that rather than less plastic ending up in the landfill, we actually had more.”

Chilson said the new ordinance would redefine disposable bags, not by thickness but by basic characteristics. The goal is to reduce further environmental harms, and in the ordinance he cites a January study that found microplastics in 13 Kenai Peninsula bodies of water.

The ordinance also reorganizes the list of exemptions, like bags to hold loose produce or bakery goods, wet items like fish or ice and prescription drugs.

The council heard supportive testimony from a few community members, who thanked the city for addressing the loophole. Resident Pamela Hays shared a message from a local business owner Kelsey Shields, who owns Lucy’s Market in Soldotna.

“I fully support repealing plastic grocery bags in Soldotna. I understand that some individuals find it inconvenient to remember to bring their reusable bags to the store, but that’s all it is, an inconvenience, and a very small one at that,” Hays read from a statement from Shields. “The health of our planet, our local wetlands and wild places is certainly worth the inconvenience.”

Vice Mayor Lisa Parker thanked the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, which she said was behind the push for the original bag ban in 2018.

The ordinance passed unanimously. It won’t go into effect until January 2025 to give vendors time to use up stock they’ve already purchased or buy new materials.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.