The Soldotna city council voted to ban single-use disposable plastic bags at its meeting Wednesday night. There was little pushback on what has been, in other corners of the peninsula, a controversial issue.
Soldotna joins Hooper Bay, Wasilla and Bethel as the only cities in Alaska with plastic bag bans on the books. Homer was nearly on that list, but the measure passed by the city council in 2013 was overturned later that year on the ballot. Council members Linda Murphy and Lisa Parker were co-sponsors of this ordinance. Murphy says it’s an important step in protecting the environment.
“I have a 16 year old granddaughter. I want her to grow up in a healthier world and I want her children to experience the same kind of lifestyle that I grew up with and that won’t be possible if we continue to do what we’re doing by trashing our environment.”
Mike Sweeney, owner of Sweeney’s Clothing in Soldotna, was the lone voice in opposition during public testimony. While the law mostly applies to grocery store shopping bags, which can be replaced with reusable versions, Sweeney says customers bringing their own bags isn’t a solution for his store, where he says he just bought more than a year’s worth of plastic.
“I’m all for recycling and I’ve always been an advocate for for that. My issue is that I’ve been using plastic bags for many years. The cost of paper is out of the question. My feeling is that we’re maybe jumping the gun on this a little bit."
Council member Tim Cashman felt the same, suggesting a phased approach.
“We can encourage good behavior without throwing a law out there so that people have to do something. I think we give them the choice, and certainly make the encouragement that they start using recyclable or reusable bags, but I would take this over time. I don’t think this is something we need to do right now.”
A number of mostly younger members of the public spoke in favor of the ban and cited the millions of metric tons of plastic that get into oceans every year. Paul Whitney offered an amendment that would let a ban go into effect should the borough and the city of Kenai also put bans in place, raising a potential legal question, but the amendment was voted down after Mayor Nels Anderson shared some of his recent experiences in Africa.
“When I went down the Ivory Coast to a nice spot where we spot where we stayed where I had two miles of open beach and nobody around, there was plastic all the way up and down the beach. Now, we’ve got other kinds of plastic...we need to deal with and this is just a small thing, but eventually it will make a difference. I just think this is something that is right, and we ought to do it.”
Whitney was the sole vote against the ban, which passed 4-1. It goes into effect November 1st.