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Photo illustration of one of the new paper bags given out after the plastic bag ban from the College Book Store on Court Street in Athens, Jan. 16, 2024.

Businesses comply with plastic bag ban

An Athens city ordinance to restrict the use of plastic bags in restaurants and businesses went into effect Jan. 1. 

Athens City Council passed the ordinance April 3, 2023 according to a previous Post report. 

Councilmember Alan Swank, D-4th Ward, said every establishment he has visited since the ordinance went into effect has been using alternatives to plastic bags. 

“CVS, Seaman’s, Kroger, Walmart, Aldi, Kindred Market, College Book Store, Ace Hardware; Those are all places that are using regular old paper bags,” he said. 

Swank said before the ordinance passed, there were some objections to switching from single-use plastic bags, and he said he expected there to be pushback. With the ordinance in effect, he said he thinks people are already starting to acclimate to the new rule.

“People will get used to it,” he said. “I think people are already getting used to it three weeks in … We're seeing more and more people bring their own bags, which is the ultimate goal.”

Like businesses, Athens citizens are adjusting quickly to the change. 

“I would say that I think the ban is going beautifully, and I see folks carrying their reusable bags, making the adjustment quickly,” Nancy Pierce, an Athens resident, wrote in an email. “We’ve gotten so much positive response from businesses and consumers.”

The original idea for the ban was formally brought to the council by a previous council member, Jennifer Cochran, in 2016 Swank said. However, the original ordinance was never voted on by the council due to the way it was structured. 

Swank said in 2018, The Kroger Co. announced its plans to eliminate all single-use plastic bags by 2025. In 2019, Swank said he got involved with a group of individuals who met to discuss bringing similar legislation to Athens. When he was elected to the council in 2022, Swank said he reconnected with the group and advocated to bring forth the legislation to the city. 

Dec. 27, 2023, days before the legislation was to go into effect, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the ban was unconstitutional according to sections of the Ohio Revised Code and insisted the city stop enforcing the ban.

Swank said, to his knowledge, the city had not responded to the lawsuit as of Jan. 18.

“We're now into the 18th day of this, and then the stores that I've stopped in to check … the transition has gone very well,” he said.

Nicholas Polsinelli, owner of the Little Professor Book Center located at 65 S. Court St, said he had stopped using plastic bags about two years before the ordinance took effect. 

Instead of single-use plastic bags, the bookstore used canvas tote bags for customers to purchase for $10 or customers can bring their own bags.

Polsinelli said he had made the personal decision to stop using plastic bags for environmental reasons, but he was worried it may have been an inconvenience for customers.

“After talking with some of my customers that seemed like they were approving of that change, I committed to that, and we slowly kind of weeded out using plastic bags,” he said. “And that has largely been a positive (change) for us with our customers.”

Polsinelli said the transition has been easy, especially with the student population who typically bring in various bags. He is starting to see more Athens citizens begin to bring their bags. 

Like Polsinelli, Pierce said she also believed the switch from single-use plastic bags would help the environment. 

“I would say that scientists are beginning to state that single-use plastics are one of the biggest causes of climate change – from both pollution and production,” Pierce wrote in an email. “And that they are a huge problem for human health, in our food, water and air, coming at us from both their use and production.”

When Swank heard that Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the country, was switching to no longer having plastic bags due to environmental reasons, he said it makes sense for other companies to also want to make the switch. 


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