Fayetteville city officials hope to increase the usage of reusable grocery bags by charging a fee on disposable bags at checkout.
Councilwoman Teresa Turk is sponsoring a measure to charge a 10-cent fee on single-use bags at grocery stores at least 10,000 square feet in size. Some major stores that would be impacted are Walmart, Harps, Aldi, Whole Foods and Ozark Natural Foods.
Other stores over 10,000 square feet that do not sell food products will not be affected. The fee would apply to each disposable bag used at checkout. Shoppers who use food stamp programs would be exempt from the bag fee.
Turk, who lived in Washington, D.C. for nine years, said she saw a positive environmental change in 2010 when D.C. started charging a bag fee.
“When I was in D.C., they implemented a bag fee ordinance for 5-cents and it changed things really dramatically,” Turk said. “People almost automatically, almost instantly made that change where they started bringing their own bag into the store.”
Turk said she wants to further environmental sustainability efforts in Fayetteville by discouraging the use of disposable grocery bags. This goal has been part of her platform since she ran for council in 2018. She said she has seen support from the majority of citizens, while some have said they already reuse plastic and paper bags.
96% of Fayetteville respondents are in favor of reducing waste in streams, waterways and landfills, according to a survey conducted by the City of Fayetteville. The survey also showed that 60% would be in support of a 10-cent plastic bag fee.
Fayetteville Environmental Director Peter Nierengarten said the grocery stores will be allowed to keep the proceeds of the program to reimburse the cost of implementation and donate what is left over to community environmental efforts.
Nierengarten said costs like checkout system re-programming, fund tracking, signage and overall management cost can be offset by the 10-cent fee.
The remaining balance of the proceeds will go toward a community environmental initiative of the store’s choice, Nierengarten said.
Nierengarten said these efforts can include, but are not limited to, litter clean-up, recycling education and waste reduction.
Charlie Spakes, president of the Arkansas Grocers and Retail Merchants Association, said he is grateful to the Fayetteville City Council for considering the grocers’ input in the matter.
“We really appreciate them letting us tell them our side of it,” Spakes said.
Spakes said larger retailers have been more open to the idea because of their previous experiences with sustainability efforts. Regional, more independent stores have been more cautious, he said.
Smaller, regional store chains, such as Harps, do not have as much infrastructure to deal with bag audits, re-training clerks and changing check-out systems, he said.
“For your smaller independent [grocery stores] it's a little bit of a burden,” Spakes said.
Spakes said a fee at checkout may come as a surprise to customers.
“It’s going to be a shock to some people,” Spakes said, “when you start adding, on average, a dollar at least, $1.50, to every order.”
Spakes said he would be surprised if the bill does not pass and is hopeful about the environmental benefit to the city. Spakes thinks if the bill passes, other cities in Arkansas might undertake similar initiatives, he said.
“[Fayetteville] will be the first city in Arkansas to do so,” Spakes said. “We’re going to have to work with our customers and, hopefully, our thought is to change the behaviors.”
Marriah Geels, a senior, said she supports the proposed measure. She said she uses reusable grocery bags whenever she remembers to, and shops mainly at Walmart.
“I think [the fee] will force people to bring their own reusable bags instead of wasting paper and plastic,” Geels said.
Geels said she cares deeply for the environment. She thinks it is important people use their resources to protect the planet, she said.
The bill underwent its first reading March 3, and the council will vote on it April 7. If it passes, the 10-cent disposable bag fee will be officially implemented in January 2021.