Council conversation continues

City council to include plastic bags in future recycling discussion

Jill Schramm/MDN Tim Baumann with The Minot Environmental Policy Group speaks to the Minot City Council during its committee meeting Wednesday in City Hall.

The matter of single-use plastic bags and their impact on the environment needs to be part of a larger recycling discussion, members of the Minot City Council decided Wednesday.

The Minot Environmental Policy Group presented recommendations at a committee meeting of the council, including an ordinance proposal that would impose a 5-cent fee to be collected by stores from customers on the use of single-use plastic bags.

Council members liked the idea of reducing the use of plastic bags.

“There’s an unacknowledged cost associated with single-use plastic, whether it’s plastic bags, whether it’s lids on coffee cups, whether it’s straws. There’s a social cost in terms of the aesthetic in our community and there’s an environmental cost,” council member Josh Wolsky said.

He recalled assisting in cleanup of the Souris River and finding three plastic bags on top of each other.

Jill Schramm/MDN Reusable bags provide an option to single-use plastic bags for shoppers.

“I think this is a significant problem that needs to be addressed in some form,” he said.

“We need to be much more attentive to environmental kinds of issues,” said council member Stephan Podrygula, who suggested the discussion be included during review of a report on recycling that is due in about a month.

“I think it best to consider this as a package,” he said. The council voted in agreement.

However, Mayor Shaun Sipma said he is concerned about the enforcement and the total cost to taxpayers of the proposal from the policy group. He added the six members of the group and the 21 responses they received in a survey this past summer leave thousands of other residents whose opinions have yet to be heard. He said he’s started to hear from some of them.

“There’s been a tremendous outpouring of people that are just having a tough time wrapping their hands around it because of the cost,” Sipma said of the proposed fees. He asked the policy group how they plan to promote a change in mindset.

Other than a top down change from heavy-handed government, Sipma asked what can be done socially to create change.

Tim Baumann, spokesman for The Minot Environmental Policy Group, said one place where a start has been made is on Facebook, where 246 people have joined the group “Environmentally Minded People of Minot” to ask questions, talk about recycling and make sure they aren’t contributing to further environmental degradation.

“Education is a really big part of that group,” he said. “We are very pleased with the amount of discussion and conversation that has started, both opposed to the ordinance language that was in the recommendation we passed on to you and in support of the ordinance language that was passed along to you, and I think there’s been a lot of education that’s been happening there.”

Council member Shannon Straight asked about having businesses promote reusable bags and the incentives they may already offer. The public perception of a fee on plastic bags is that of a tax, he said.

Baumann said the group felt it inappropriate yet to approach businesses, although it is willing to do so.

Sipma encouraged the policy group to continue its work and open a conversation with retailers so when the recycling discussion starts, the group can bring as much information as possible to the council. The council is expected to have the discussion possibly around February.