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MURRAY — Murray has joined a handful of Utah cities that have stepped into the debate of whether to ban plastic grocery bags — but it's not without pushback.
A crowd of residents, both for and against, packed into the council chambers Tuesday night for the Murray City Council's first public debate over an ordinance to ban plastic bags and impose fees on violators.
There were residents staunchly opposed to the ordinance, like Scott Glauser, who literally threw his city-sponsored fabric reusable bag on the floor when telling council members why a plastic bag ban would be a "big mistake."
"I have lived where plastic bags are totally banned, and it's terrible," he said, saying his groceries will roll unleashed in the trunk of his car, only to be found two months later smelling rotten. And if he's only given a paper bag, he said he's "only got a 50/50 chance of making it to (my) car without everything going on the ground."
Glauser said he couldn't care less that it costs waste disposal facilities tens of thousands of dollars a year to remove plastic bags from equipment.
"It's not my fault if your machine gets clogged with plastic bags. I don't care," Glauser said, noting if it costs $50,000 a year, that's only a "buck a year" for Murray's 50,000 residents. He said he'd rather pay that than a fee on the bags passed down from retailers to shoppers.
But then there were residents like Kat Martinez, a mother of three, who said she strolls the Jordan River Parkway with her kids and often collects garbage as they go. The most notorious litter culprit along the parkway? Plastic bags, she said.
"We can make changes. I believe in us," Martinez said. "We can do hard things, and Murray has the ability to set the standard for (environmental) stewardship."
If Murray enacts the plastic bag ban, it would become the third city in Utah to adopt anti-plastic bag legislation. Park City adopted the state's first ban on plastic bags in 2017, followed by Moab in 2018.
"It's not that I want to be Moab or I want to be Park City," Martinez said. "I want to be Murray. I want us to set an example."
Logan earlier this year was considering its own ban but shelved it in March amid heated debate.
As the push to ban plastic bags has surfaced among some progressive-leaning Utah cities, the Utah Legislature has for years eyed legislation to prohibit cities from enacting plastic bag bans altogether — but legislation has stalled. This year, one such bill was literally shouted down on the House floor after two voice votes blocked the bill from being uncircled one late evening during the final days of the session.
Legislation to adopt a statewide plastic bags ban has also stalled in years passed. The sponsor of past bills, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, came to Murray's council meeting Tuesday night urging the City Council to move forward with the ordinance.
In 2017, Iwamoto's bill wasn't even given a hearing. When she tried again last year, the Senate shot it down.
Iwamoto said her constituents are overwhelmingly supportive of banning plastic bags — no matter whether they're Republican or Democrat. The senator said she strongly believes "the locals should decide."
The Murray City Council began the meeting with presentations from Mark Hoyer, executive director of the Trans-Jordan Landfill in Salt Lake County, and Pam Roberts, executive director of Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District, who detailed the expensive problems plastic bags cause when they clog up recycling sorting equipment or blow away from landfills. They require landfills to install multimillion dollar, 45-foot "dinosaur fences," as Hoyer described them, to keep the flyaways contained.
"The thing that gets me is they are easily preventable sources of pollution. We could easily prevent the problem, but somehow we chose not to," Hoyer said.
Murray City Councilwoman Diane Turner presented the proposed ordinance but stressed the council is still doing research and will take public input into account.
The ordinance would require retail stores to only provide check-out bags that are reusable, recyclable paper bags or compostable bags. A first offense would result in a written warning, while a second offense would come with an infraction and up to a $750 fine.
Turner said retailers contacted by city officials recently indicated they would follow the ordinance, and Smith's grocery stores indicated they're already planning on phasing out plastic bags by 2025.
"This really puts the responsibility on the citizens, and we realize that," Turner said. "But I think Murray citizens are up to it."
I hate any law that's draconian in nature that wants to punish you. I chose not to live in California because I don't want a government that wants to control everything I do in life.
–Murrary resident Bill Strong
But Dave Davis, president of the Utah Retail Merchants Association, urged the City Council to pump the brakes and think about what a plastic bag ban would "really mean."
He said it would "inevitably" push the cost of paper bags or other alternatives onto the consumer. He also warned Murray is not "insulated from other cities" and shoppers frustrated with the ban would be quick to shop elsewhere.
"If Murray City does this on their own, is it going to make a difference?" Davis questioned.
Resident Bill Strong pledged to the council that if they passed such an orinance, he'd take his business somewhere else.
"I hate any law that's draconian in nature that wants to punish you," he said. "I chose not to live in California because I don't want a government that wants to control everything I do in life."
Former Utah House representative and Murray resident Bruce Cutler had a different approach. He said he agreed plastic bags are a "disaster," but perhaps Murray should motivate people "positively rather than negatively," such as a discount on groceries rather than a fee.
"If we want to change behavior, we need to create motivation," he said.
The Murray City Council did not take any action Tuesday but plans to consider the ordinance in coming weeks.