Brownsville, Texas Celebrates One Year Anniversary Of Successful Plastic Bag Ban

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January, 2012, is the one year anniversary of Brownsville's plastic bag ban. All in all, the ban has contributed to a cleaner city and most residents have embraced using reusable grocery bags. Other cities and states are looking to Brownsville for advice to pass their own plastic bag bans. The successful first year anniversary is due to a community wide effort to make a positive environmental change.

reusable bags make a difference in Brownsville

City of Brownsville

a look at it a year later shows that we have adopted and learned to work in ways that are sustainable

It's the city of Brownsville's one year anniversary of the controversial yet popular plastic bag ban that went into effect January 5th, 2011. So on the city's one year anniversary, we wanted to get an idea of how the community of Brownsville has responded to the ban by talking to community members to get their direct feedback.

According to Arturo Rodriquez MPH, Public Health Director at The City of Brownsville, "Our ordinance appears to have been effective in curbing specific litter from single use plastic bags. The retailers and citizens seem to have come together and while it’s not been all roses throughout our experience; a look at it a year later shows that we have adopted and learned to work in ways that are sustainable without sacrificing health concerns and or a convenient shopping experience."

Initially, the reason for the ban was that Brownsville had a significant litter problem, and plastic bags accounted for a large amount of the litter. Plastic bags were being handed out to consumers in huge numbers every day. The plastic bags would end up drifting along Brownsville streets and sidewalks, getting snagged in trees, or worse yet, clogging drainage canals and harming wildlife. Enough residents of Brownsville, along with City Council Members, agreed the amount of litter in Brownsville needed to be addressed.

Understandably, once the ordinance passed, the biggest fear by consumers was that they would forget their reusable bags. However, after a year of adjusting, with a little planning, most shoppers are remembering to bring them.

Marta, an Assistant Manager at the Stripes, a convenience store located on 850 Old Port Isabel Road said that most customers just carry out their items to their cars without asking for a bag, but in cases where they end up buying more than they intended, customers do purchase the reusable shopping bags available for sale. She said that sometimes customers do bring in their own reusable bags as well.

The City of Brownsville Public Health Department has really tried to make the transition as easy as possible for their residents because they believe that a small action by each person can deliver great results for the entire community. In fact, the kick off for the campaign began on Earth Day 2010. On this day, the city hosted "B.Y.O.B" day, which stands for, "Bring Your Own Bag". The city commissioner, along with other city officials and volunteers, stood in front of HEB grocery stores and handed out free reusable grocery bags to encourage customers to begin using them and help motivate them to make an eco-friendly change.

The City of Brownsville Public Health Department web site also provides residents with great tips on how to safely clean (http://health.cob.us/cleaning-reusable-bags) their reusable grocery bags and safely use them for food handling. One great safety tip they provide is to assign specific bags to a specific food category. They suggest having one bag labeled Meat, Produce, Dairy, and Packaged. For example, look for a specific personalized reusable shopping bag, color or design that will remind you that that is the ‘meat bag’. When picking out the bag specifically for meat, make sure it is made of machine washable material (so preferably not plastic). Use another reusable shopping bag for produce to avoid using the plastic produce bags and use your 'Dairy' bag for only dairy products.

As far as the environmental impact the ban has had on the community, Beulah Mendez-Ramirez, Legal Secretary for the Public Health Department said, "I have seen a reduction in plastic bags in our highways and freeways. I don't see plastic bags flying around our streets and there has been a reduction in litter."

Beulah Mendez-Ramirez also told our team that many different cities within Texas, as well as states around the nation, have turned to Brownsville for inspiration and advice as to how to move forward with their own ban. Beulah has explained the processes Brownsville took, such as holding Environmental Advisory Committee meetings once a week and hosting Informational Workshops, to many different state officials, to pass their own ordinance.

The one year anniversary of the successful plastic bag ban in Brownsville, Texas has been a community wide effort for a positive environmental change and continues to lead the way for many others around the nation to follow suit. Many city officials consider the passing of this ordinance to be one of the most important ordinances to date. The fact that other cities and states around the nation are looking to Brownsville for advice is a testimate to their success.

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Arturo Rodriguez MPH, Public Health Director

Cory Epstein
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