Single-use plastic bags will no longer be allowed in the city of Cincinnati, in part to an environmental initiative founded by students at the University of Cincinnati (UC).
On Sept. 10, Cincinnati City Council approved an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags. The ordinance was passed with a 7-1 majority and will go into effect January 1, 2021.
The ban will discontinue the distribution of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and restaurants throughout the city.
Use of heavy-duty plastic or paper bags will be allowed for the first six months after the ban goes into effect. Starting July 1, 2021, businesses will begin providing reusable bags for a fee of at least five cents per bag.
The fee will allow business owners to offset the cost of providing customers reusable bags. Those receiving government food assistance, such as food stamps, will be exempt from this fee.
"I believe that our earth is speaking to us," said Councilmember Chris Seelbach, who sponsored the ordinance, citing intensified natural disasters as a result of climate change.
"What is happening cannot be the new normal," he said. "We need to be better stewards of the environment."
The ordinance will see Cincinnati join hundreds of other U.S. cities in banning single-use plastic bags.
Councilmember Betsy Sundermann was the only one to oppose the ordinance, expressing concern that it would place additional pressure on businesses during the pandemic.
The ban on single-use plastic bags is the result of an initiative launched by students at the University of Cincinnati in 2012.
"This is eight years in the making," Seelbach said.
Kroger, the nation's largest grocery chain, which is headquartered in Cincinnati, previously announced that it plans to phase out single-use plastic bags in all its locations by 2025.
Getting the company's participation was the linchpin that pushed this legislation through city council, said Nathan Alley, conservation program coordinator with Sierra Club.
"The reason [the ban] took so long, quite honestly, was because in the city of Cincinnati you kind of need Kroger's buy-in for something like this," Alley said.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, the average American family will take home approximately 1,500 plastic bags just in the course of a year.
The world has accumulated billions of tons of plastic waste since the late 19th century, most of which will take at least 500 years to biodegrade fully.
Plastic pollution is especially prevalent in rivers and streams that eventually lead out to the ocean, Alley said, adding that Cincinnati's many waterways invariably make it a magnet for plastic pollution.
"So, it's going to be pollution here first, and then ultimately, as it degrades over time and gets traveled to other places, we're exporting that pollution to the ocean environment," he said.
The new ban will work to mitigate that pollution.
Alley attributed much of the success in getting this legislation passed to the work students at UC did nearly a decade ago.
"Eight years on, we wouldn't be here in 2020 if people hadn't started laying the groundwork in 2012," he said.