One Year Anniversary of Brownsville’s Plastic Bag Ban

Brownsville’s single use plastic bag  ban went into effect January 5th, 2011, and so, on the city’s one year anniversary, we wanted to get an idea of how the community of Brownsville has responded to the ban.  We spoke with Arturo Rodriquez MPH, Public Health Director at The City of Brownsville, to get his impressions of community reactions, the impacts the ban has on his city, and how Brownsville has influenced and assisted other cities with their plastic bag initiative.  We also spoke with Beulah Mendez-Ramirez , Legal Secretary for the Public Health Department, and Marta, the Assistant Manager at the Stripes located on 850 Old Port Isabel Road in Brownsville.

Reason For The Ban

Initially, the reason for the ban was that Brownsville had a significant litter problem, and plastic bags accounted for a large amount of the litter.  Plastic bags were being handed out to consumers in huge numbers every day.  The plastic bags would end up drifting along Brownsville streets and sidewalks, getting snagged in trees, or worse yet, clogging drainage canals and harming wildlife.  Enough residents of Brownsville, along with City Council members, agreed the amount of litter in Brownsville needed to be addressed.

Community Support

Understandably, once the ordinance passed, the biggest fear by consumers was that they would forget their bags.  However, after a year of adjusting, with a little planning, most shoppers are remembering to bring them.

Marta, an Assistant Manager at the Stripes, a convenience store located on 850 Old Port Isabel Road, said that most customers just carry out their items to their cars without asking for a bag, but in cases where they end up buying more than they intended, customers do purchase the reusable shopping bags available for sale.   She said that sometimes customers do bring in their own reusable bags as well.

In a video produced by Channel 4 news, it seems most consumers have adjusted to the ban, and are remembering to bring in their reusable shopping bags:

Brownsville Public Health Department

The City of Brownsville Public Health Department has tried to make the transition as easy as possible on their residents because they believe that a small action by each person can deliver great results for the entire community.  In fact, the kick off for the campaign began on Earth Day 2010. On this day, the city hosted “B.Y.O.B” day, which stands for, “Bring Your Own Bag”.  The city commisioner, along with other city officials and volunteers, stood in front of grocery stores and handed out free reusable grocery stores to customers to encourage them to consider the amount of waste with each single use plastic bag that is handed out to every customer, every day.
The City of Brownsville Public Health Department web site also provides residents with some great tips on how to safely clean their reusable grocery bags and safely use them for food handling.  One great food safety tip they provide is to assign specific bags to a specific food category.  They suggest having one bag labeled Meat, Produce, Dairy, and Packaged.  For example, look for a specific personalized reusable shopping bag, color or design that will remind you that that is the ‘meat bag’.  When picking out the bag specifically for meat, make sure it is made of machine washable material (so preferably not plastic). Use another reusable shopping bag for produce to avoid using the plastic produce bags and use your ‘Dairy’ bag for only dairy products.

Environmental Impact

As far as the environmental impact the ban has had on  the community,  Beulah Mendez-Ramirez said, “I have seen a reduction in plastic bags in our highways  and freeways.  I don’t see plastic bags flying around our streets and there has been a reduction in litter.”

According to Arturo Rodriquez MPH, “Our ordinance appears to have been effective in curbing specific litter from single use plastic bags.  The retailers and citizens seem to have come together and while it’s not been all roses throughout our experience; a look at it a year later shows that we have adopted and learned to work in ways that are sustainable without sacrificing health concerns and or a convenient shopping experience.”

Aside from a little aggravation in the initial phase of enacting the ban, no one was able to come up with any ill effects the ban has caused the community.

Beulah Mendez-Ramirez also told our team that many different cities within Texas, as well as states around the nation, have turned to Brownsville for inspiration and advice as to how to move forward with their own ban.  Beulah has explained their processes, such as holding Environmental Advisory Committee meetings once a week and hosting Informational Workshops, to many different state officials in order to pass their own ordinance.

The one year anniversary of the plastic bag ban in Brownsville, Texas continues to lead the way for many other cities around the nation to follow suit.  It has been the participation of the community that has made the ban an environmental positive change for the environment.

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