Prairie Village Environmental Committee set to put forth proposal to ban single-use plastic bags

The Prairie Village Environmental Committee has spent a year researching and planning a proposal to ban single-use plastic bags. The city considered a similar idea six years ago, but there was never a formal proposal that came up for a vote.

After a six-year gap, the Prairie Village Environmental Committee is again considering the idea of eliminating single-use plastic bags from stores throughout the city.

A proposal outlined by two members of the city council calls for a ban on single-use plastic bags and to require vendors to charge a fee for paper and reusable bags. Councilmembers Tucker Poling and Jori Nelson intend bring the proposal forward in the coming weeks, kicking off a public review and comment period to gain resident and business input that includes:

  • An information and input meeting open to all residents, business owners. If time permits, the city may host more than one such meeting.
  • City staff efforts to publicize city council meeting where the ban ordinance would be discussed
  • Nelson and Poling would work to connect with Climate Action KC leaders and northeast Johnson County elected officials for review and input

When the idea was first brought forward several years ago, there was no clear draft proposal nor council member who sponsored and advocated for it, according to a memo Tucker and Nelson sent to the mayor and city staff. In the intervening years, research shows more than one million plastic bags have been distributed city-wide, according to the memo. Poling said the six-page proposal is a reflection of the environmental committee’s work, which has been under Nelson’s leadership as the committee chair.

City Councilwoman Jori Nelson said that part of the motivation to take up the idea at the city level comes from inaction on sustainability issues at the federal and state level.

“I’m very proud of the environmental committee’s work on this proposal and thankful for Jori’s leadership in guiding the PV environmental committee’s good work on both this proposal and the compost pick-up service pilot program,” Poling said in an email.

The committee spent a year researching and discussing the proposal, which entails the following six key points:

  • Retail establishments are not to provide single-use, carry-out plastic bags to customers
  • A recycled paper or reusable bag may be provided by an establishment, but customers must be charged
  • Following a formal adoption, there would be a six to 12 month grace period to allow residents and businesses to prepare for the ban
  • Enforcement provisions
  • A recommendation for staff, city council or the public to include an “undue hardship” exception (in the case of no reasonable alternatives for a retail establishment, for example)
  • No mandatory reporting or tracking from vendors

Nelson said that research shows a plastic bag averages an estimated 12-minute lifespan from the time it is given out at a commercial establishment to the time it is discarded. Additionally, she said cities and states across the world have made efforts to eliminate single-use plastic bags, “with proven beneficial results.”

The average number of plastic bag usage per person has been reduced tenfold in San Jose, Calif., Nelson said. The reduction comes as a result of a policy similar to the one the Prairie Village Environmental Committee is proposing, she said.

City Councilman Tucker Poling is one the officials behind bringing the idea back before the Prairie VIllage governing body.

As the city gains a reputation as a “regional leader on sustainability issues” — with initiatives such as the compost pick-up service and aiming for the highest level of LEED certification on the new city works building — this policy can further that reputation, Nelson said.

“With the state and federal government paralyzed by partisan warfare and inaction on sustainability issues, local governments must assume the mantle of leadership on sustainability,” Nelson said.

The memo, dated Dec. 23, 2019, does not state when the public review and comment period might begin, and therefore does not state when the proposal might be considered by the city council.