Athens officials argue the city’s plastic bag ban is legal in response to a lawsuit against the ordinance

Posted on:

< < Back to

ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — In response to a lawsuit challenging its new plastic bag ban, the city of Athens argues it did not exceed its authority and suggests it is being singled out by the state.

Plastic single-use shopping bags at the checkout area in a Walmart store.
Plastic single-use shopping bags at the checkout area in a Walmart store. [JHVEPhoto | Shutterstock]
In late December the state sued Athens over the ban, which took effect at the start of this year. The state’s central argument is the city’s ban on single-use plastic bags is unconstitutional because it conflicts with a state law.

That law, according to the state’s lawsuit, guarantees stores the right to use plastic bags for their customers.

In its response filed Tuesday, the city denies that its plastic bag ban violates this law and that the state has “enshrined the right to use single-use plastic bags.”

The city also notes that other jurisdictions, including Cuyahoga County, Bexley and Cincinnati, have passed similar bans and have not been sued by the state.

The Athens bag ban was passed in May by the City Council. The city argues this was a proper exercise of home rule authority, which allows cities to pass their own laws provided they do not conflict with state law.

The city also argues it has authority under state law “to enact laws and policies regarding environmentally friendly business practices.”

In its lawsuit, the state argued the ban not only violates state law but creates a hardship for businesses, criminalizes the use of plastic bags “and causes irreparable harm.”

The city counters that 85 to 90 percent of stores and vendors have already complied with the ban and notes that the penalty for violating the ban is an administrative fine. A violation only becomes criminal if the fine is not paid.

As for the harm caused, the city argues “the irreparable harm at issue is to the environment and the public interest. Plastic does not biodegrade, but rather breaks down into microplastics that contaminate the water, soil, and food chains.”

The lawsuit is pending before Athens County Court of Common Pleas Judge Patrick Lang. The state is asking the judge to declare the ban unconstitutional and prohibit the city from continuing to enforce it.

The city is asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit.