By Carey Restino
Less than a year after the initiation of a ban on thin plastic bags in Homer, the issue is likely to soon be up for debate again.
A petition repealing the ordinance and putting the issue to voters was submitted last week to the Homer City Clerk’s office containing more than 400 signatures gathered over a several-month-long period, said petition initiator Justin Arnold.
Only 230 signatures were needed to repeal the ordinance, he said. The signatures are now being confirmed by the city clerk’s office.
The bag ban went into effect in January, prompting local stores to stop using thin plastic bags. Other communities in the nation have imposed similar bans because the thin bags are said to cause a littering problem when the bags are improperly disposed of.
Some stores, such as Safeway, started using paper bags instead, while others, such as Save-U-More, offer boxes as well as promoted reusable bags for sale.
But some have disagreed with the move by council to restrict the bag use, saying it is an example of government overstepping its bounds.
“This is about too much intrusion in the lives of private citizens,” said Chris Story, a local realtor who has brought the issue up on his local radio show.
Story helped collect signatures for the petition, and said the bag ban sets an uncomfortable precedent regarding government management. If the problem is bags not being properly disposed of, then approach that issue, he said, rather than imposing a flat-out ban of the bags.
Arnold said he was inspired to repeal the ban when his paper grocery sack busted as he walked up the stairs, spilling the entire load of groceries.
“I went right in and Googled ‘How to change a city ordinance,’” he said.
While this is his first foray into politics, Arnold said he has thrown himself into it wholeheartedly. While gathering petition signatures, he encouraged those in favor of the bag ban to debate the issue with him.
And he did his research.
Recycled bags, he said, have been linked to food poisoning and even death. They are supposed to be washed after every use, but who does that, he said. He argued that paper bags are expensive and take up more room in a landfill.
But, like Story, Arnold said the real reason he is opposed to the bag ban is because the government shouldn’t be involved in personal choice.
“I think government gets way too involved with too many things,” he said, adding that those who support government policy like the bag ordinance may be blinded by their beliefs. “I believe they forget about all the unintended consequences.”
A similar example, Story said, would be a ban by the council of newspaper products.
“If we can regulate the thickness of the bag used at this checkout stand, then when will we see a ban on newspapers,” he said.
Story said other features of the bag ban frustrate him as well.
For example, you can go into the grocery store and use any size of bag thickness to put your head of lettuce into before you place it in your shopping cart. But when you get to the check-out stand, a certain bag thickness is required. Another bone of contention, he said, is that the city distributes thin plastic bags on the Homer Spit for use in collecting your dog’s droppings.
Story said he is shocked at the social media commentary he’s seen regarding the bag ban, such as comments about how paper bags should be banned, too. He said if the shoe was on the other foot and the government was banning things that the bag ban supporters were in favor of, they would feel differently.
“You are not always going to be in power,” he said. “This is setting a dangerous precedent.”
If approved by the city clerk, the bag ban would likely go before voters in October.
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