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Cleveland City Council Shortens Proposed Delay On County's Plastic Bag Ban

A plastic bag stuck in a tree in downtown Cleveland. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
A plastic bag stuck in a tree in downtown Cleveland.

Updated: 8:24 p.m. Dec. 2, 2019

The City of Cleveland will delay adoption of Cuyahoga County’s ban on retail plastic bags, but only by six months instead of the full year originally proposed.

Under the amended city council legislation easily approved Monday night, a Cleveland working group will have until July 1, 2020, to propose possible citywide rules for disposable bags. That’s also when Cuyahoga County plans to begin collecting fines from retailers for giving out plastic bags to customers.

The original proposed delay, sponsored by City Council President Kevin Kelley, gave the working group a deadline of January 2021.

Kelley argued his plan would give the city more time to weigh the effects of the ban on stores and customers. He pushed for council to vote on the delay before the first of next year, when the county’s ban legislation takes effect.

“We need to sit with those that are affected, sit with those in the neighborhood that would be affected by this, and find out what is the best plan for the city of Cleveland,” Kelley said at a Monday morning committing meeting.

But his proposal ran into opposition from the sponsor of the county’s ban, several city council members and environmental advocates. The Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus planned to protest the original year-long delay before council’s Monday night meeting.

Councilman Kerry McCormack offered the six-month compromise, saying it lines up with the county’s timeline and still give the city enough time to discuss the impact of a ban.

“The intent of the amendment is to support the effort to at least remove disposable plastic bags,” McCormack said.

Kelley and several other council members said Cleveland has already lost grocery stores and that they did not want to drive others away. The city has given out about $3.5 million in grants and loans in recent years to support local grocery stores, Economic Development Director David Ebersole told council Monday.

Businesses will receive a warning for a first violation of Cuyahoga County’s ban. The county will impose a $100 fine for a second infraction and $500 after that.

The Democratic-majority Cuyahoga County Council passed its bag ban with an 8-to-3 party-line vote in May. Several Republican state lawmakers have sponsored a measure to prevent counties from imposing such restrictions on single-use containers.

County Councilwoman Sunny Simon, who sponsored the bag ban and argued against delaying Cleveland’s participation, called the amendment a “positive step” for Lake Erie and the county.

“We know reducing plastic bag pollution is a win for all of us,” she said, “and it’s important for consumers and businesses to have consistency across the county.”

The county plans to distribute 25,000 reusable bags next year, Simon said.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.