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Cuyahoga County Council Approves Ban On Plastic Bags

Grocery bags stacked in a car trunk [Belen Strehl / Shutterstock]
Grocery bags stacked in a car trunk

Cuyahoga County Council banned single-use plastic bags with an 8 to 3 party-line vote Tuesday evening, requiring businesses to offer reusable or paper bags to retail customers.

The ordinance is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. It was originally drafted for Oct. 1 of this year, but councilmembers agreed businesses needed more time to prepare.

“We’re not going to solve the entire plastic pollution problem by banning plastic bags,” said Democratic Councilwoman Sunny Simon, who sponsored the measure. “However, it’s a huge start and it’s going to make a big difference.”

Republican Councilman Jack Schron, who voted against the ban, said many people already reuse plastic bags — for example, to pick up dog waste and line trash cans.

The measure is intended to reduce plastic litter in the waterways, protect wildlife and keep storm drains clear of obstructions.

Businesses will receive a written warning from the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs after a first violation. The county will impose a $100 fine for a second violation and $500 fines for subsequent infringements.

The ordinance does not apply to plastic bags used for newspapers, prescription drugs, perishable food, dry cleaning, garbage, yard waste or restaurant takeout. Customers may use plastic bags they have brought to the store themselves.

The ban received support from environmentalists and the League of Women Voters of Greater Cleveland. Backers spoke in favor of the measure at a committee meeting in early May.

Jeff Heinen, who co-owns Heinen’s Fine Foods with his brother, Tom, opposed the measure. At a council meeting earlier this month, he argued that paper bags carry an environmental and economic cost of their own.

“The answer isn’t paper versus plastic. It’s really an answer about singular-use bags and using reusable bags,” Heinen told council two weeks ago. “Banning plastic bags may make you feel like you’re solving a problem, but environmentally, you’re really treating a symptom and not the root cause.”

Heinen also said that he supported the failed 2017 ordinance that would have levied a 10-cent fee on plastic bags.

The county’s ban may eventually find itself butting up against state law. Two Republican state lawmakers introduced a measure in the Ohio House this month that would prohibit local governments from applying taxes or fees to the sale of single-use plastic bags and other containers.

Two weeks ago, council voted to reject an amendment proposed by Republican Councilwoman Nan Baker that would have postponed the start date of the ordinance to January 2021. The amendment also would have required an economic impact study and analysis of plastic waste.

Read the ordinance below. Mobile users can view here.


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