[Madison Moore | WOUB]

As Athens considers a plastic bags ban, business owners worry about extra costs

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Plastic bags are widely used by stores and vendors in Athens, but those businesses may soon have to replace them with more sustainable alternatives.

A plastic bag is in a yard with leaves and grass
A plastic bag in a yard on College St. [Madison Moore]
On March 6, Athens City Council Member Alan Swank, D-4th Ward, introduced an ordinance aimed at reducing plastic waste by phasing out single-use plastic bags in the city. 

“I would love to eliminate (immediately) but going from where we are today to zero is quite a stretch,” said Swank. 

The ordinance has support from Athens Rethink Plastics, a local volunteer group working to raise public awareness about plastic pollution. 

One volunteer, Janalee Stock, said she knows the transition would not be easy. 

“It’s going to feel hard in the beginning. I recognize that. But in juxtaposition to what the scientists have been warning about for many, many years, we must do this for the next generation,” said Stock. 

Eight states have already passed similar bans.

If passed, the ordinance would require stores and vendors to transition to paper or reusable bags.

On April 3, council amended the ordinance to change the effective date from Aug. 1 to Jan. 1, 2024, giving stores and vendors more time to get sustainable alternatives to plastic bags and eliminate existing inventory. 

Business owners have expressed concern over the proposed ordinance, citing potential financial strain. 

Todd Thomson, owner of Grub-N-Go on Union St., said rising costs already make it tough to pay the bills. Adding this to the mix could force him to close his restaurant. 

“It’s going to hurt us in the long run,” said Thompson.  

The College Book Store, located on Court St., uses up to 50,000 plastic bags each year.

General Manager Gene Armes said the cost to replace the durable plastic bag they currently use with a smaller paper bag is two-and-a-half times higher. The change would cost the College Book Store an extra $8,500 per year.  

“The per bag price is about 13 cents each. The smaller paper bag we will have to transition into will cost us 30 cents each and will have to be made and printed overseas as opposed to the U.S.-made bag we currently use,” said Armes.  

The store orders a full year’s worth of bags at once to get the best price possible. If the ordinance passes, Armes would need to find a way to store the heavier paper bags.

“They will take up four times more space in our building,” said Armes.  

If the ordinance passes, the city will provide a $5,000 assistance program to businesses and vendors to help with the transition. Businesses must apply to receive assistance.

On April 3, Councilman Swank outlined the consequences for any store or vendor that fails to comply with the ordinance.

Any violation of the ordinance would first result in an administrative offense and a fine of $150. Any store or vendor who does not pay the fine within 30 days will receive a minor misdemeanor. Anyone who wishes to appeal the violation can do so at the Athens Police Department.