Environment Montana
Missoula Current
Martin Kidston

Several Missoula residents continued their plea to the City Council on Monday night to proactively address plastic bags and other single-use plastic items, calling them a scourge on the environment.

City staff is researching the issue and is expected to present options in the coming weeks.

“A plastic bag ban is not nearly enough, but it’s a start,” one resident told the council during public comments on Monday night. “This is urgent, and honestly, it’s the most minuscule thing we can do. After that, we have to ban all single-use plastics.”

Nearly 350 U.S. cities, counties and states have already banned or currently tax the use of plastic bags. Missoula isn’t one of them, though over the past four months, the drumbeat of residents looking to ban plastic bags and other plastic items has grown louder.

“We continue to hear that, and it’s on our minds too,” Chase Jones, the city’s energy conservation coordinator, said Tuesday. “We’re hearing citizens and we continue to research, and we’re gathering information to make the best possible decision to move forward.”

While coastal cities began to address the issue years ago, a growing number of interior cities have since followed suit, including 10 in Colorado, two in New Mexico and one each in Utah, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Carl Pelletier, the communications director for the town of Jackson, Wyoming, said his city’s ban on plastic bagstook effect on April 15 and impacts grocery and retail stores over 5,000 square feet.

Smaller stores will come online in November.

“It’s banning all single-use plastic bags and it’s two phases,” he said. “The first phase is for large grocery stores over a certain square footage, and large retail stores over a certain square footage.”

Jackson’s large grocers include Lucky’s Market, Albertsons, Smiths and Whole Grocer. None of the businesses are permitted to provide single-use disposable plastic bags at the point of sale.

Instead, customers can either bring a reusable bag or purchase a paper bag for 20 cents. Of that cost, 10 cents goes back to the store to cover the cost of the bag while the rest goes to waste and recycling to promote education and sustainability.

Pelletier said the ban enters its second phase in November, impacting all retail stores. The exceptions include product bags like dry cleaner, newspaper, pharmaceuticals and small hardware items, and bulk-food purchases, such as fruits and vegetables.

“There was initially some resistance from certain businesses,” Pelletier said. “But for the most part, it’s been really good.”

Jackson’s ban on single-use plastic bags began nearly a decade ago, Pelletier said, though it didn’t take hold. The newly seated town council made some adjustments and enacted the ordinance earlier this month.

“We designated funds for the purchase of 20,000 to 25,000 reusable bags that we wanted to distribute to the community – the school kids and different populations underrepresented in the community,” said Pelletier. “We spent about a week at lunch time and dinner time at all the different grocery stores around town handing out reusable bags to consumers.”

Some community activists in Missoula are pushing for a similar outcome, saying plastic bags are a good place to start since they end up in forests, in the river and other places. Other single-use plastic items are also on their radar, including styrofoam containers and straws.

“Nothing you use for 10 minutes should be able to pollute the environment for 100 years,” said Skye Borden, state director of Environment Montana. “If Missoula wants to ban plastic bags, we’re enthusiastically behind it.”