Following Texas Supreme Court ruling, Austin area retailers grapple with plastic bag policy

Following a state Supreme Court ruling, the city of Austin announced it will no longer enforce its single-use plastic bag ban.

Following a state Supreme Court ruling, the city of Austin announced it will no longer enforce its single-use plastic bag ban.

In June, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a single-use plastic bag ban in Laredo, Texas, violated a state law regulating solid waste disposal. In response, the city of Austin announced that it would no longer enforce its own single-use plastic bag ban, raising questions about how retailers would respond.

Many grocery and convenience stores with locations in Austin have not officially changed their policies, although they may do so in the future.

Supermarket chain Randalls, which is headquartered in Houston, “is considering a future course of action with insight from our customers,” according to an official statement.

San Antonio-based H-E-B has a similar stance, writing on Twitter, “As with any policy change to our business, we will thoughtfully evaluate the issue to ensure we’re making the best decisions for our customers and the communities we serve.”

99 Ranch Market, a California-based Asian-American supermarket that opened its first Austin location in March, has yet to make a decision following the ruling.

"99 Ranch Market strives to find the right balance of customers' shopping experience and the environmentally friendly initiatives," a spokesperson said in an email on July 13.

Other retailers, such as Austin-based Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, do not offer single-use plastic bags at all, regardless of local policy.

Walmart, CVS and Walgreens have not responded to requests for comment on their policies with regard to Austin locations.

Since its implementation in March 2013, Austin’s Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance has reduced single-use plastic bag litter by 75 percent and yearly single-use plastic bag consumption by nearly 197 million bags, according to a 2015 report published by the Austin Resource Recovery Center.

The report also uncovered some unintended consequences of the bag ban, including an increase in reusable plastic bags, which have “a very high carbon footprint compared to the single-use bag,” in the recycling stream, and increased costs for both retailers and consumers.

"This case had little do with the merits of plastic bag bans, and everything to do with reining in lawless city governments," said Robert Henneke, director of the litigation wing at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin.

Others argue that the environmental impact of such a bag ban is worth the inconvenience caused.

“Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years,” Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said in a June 22 statement about the ruling.

In a statement about the Supreme Court ruling, a city spokesperson said: “While it’s disappointing that the city is losing a tool to help protect the environment, we are also confident that the Austin community will continue to do their best to minimize plastic bag waste.”