CHEYENNE — A plan to ban plastic grocery bags in city limits has been rejected in the wake of public complaints about the proposal.
The council voted 5-4 Monday against the proposed ordinance that would have blocked Cheyenne businesses from offering plastic bags to their customers in most circumstances. Since it was the second reading of the ordinance, the proposal has died.
Of the 23 residents who spoke about the plastic ban proposal Monday, 19 opposed it.
Despite an overwhelming majority of opposition provided in public testimony during city meetings, council member Jeff White said the input he’s received has been about equal opposition and support.
Many opponents of the ban complained about a 10-cent service fee that had been originally proposed within the ordinance that would have been charged to people for each paper bag they were given. Half of the proceeds from this charge were to go toward city efforts to educate the public about the plastic bag ban.
On Monday, council member Mark Rinne proposed eliminating the fee, which was rejected by the council.
Rinne said he has a problem with plastics, which circulate in the air and have been found as high as the tops of mountains and as deep as sea ocean beds. These plastics become consumed by humans and animals, which cause serious health risks.
Rinne said if there was a way to reduce the volume of plastics being produced, he would do it and supported the ordinance.
“I know you all think plastic bags are important, but Lord knows what they're doing to our health,” Rinne said. “We do not know, but it cannot be good.”
Although he spoke against the ordinance later in the meeting, council member Tom Segrave said he wanted the education piece to remain in place. Despite admitting there are benefits derived from reducing waste, Segrave believes that efforts need to be taken to an individual level.
“It will have a dramatic impact on our small businesses, on our retail costs,” Segrave said in his opposition to the ordinance.
Council member Michelle Aldrich argued against removing the fee because she didn’t believe it went far enough to improve the ordinance.
The amendment to remove the fee failed by a 5-5 vote.
Supporters Switch Votes
Although White said he hasn’t been completely successful in his effort to stop using plastics, he’s made progress and believes it is a worthy cause to mitigate. He originally supported the ban, but switched his stance after conversations with a few local business owners who told him that switching to paper would cost them $3,500 to $4,000 more per year.
White said if the economy was in a better state, he would have given more consideration to passing the ordinance.
“I just can’t vote for this tonight knowing already high consumer prices might likely be increased by passing this,” he said.
Council member Bryan Cook offered a similar sentiment and brought up the example of a statewide business that would have to offer different bags in Cheyenne than it does in the rest of the state.
Council president Richard Johnson, who originally proposed the bag ban, said he had been considering it for quite some time but was derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the issue was brought back to his attention by the Cheyenne Public Works Department.
Segrave questioned Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins whether the plastic bag ban was an agenda being pushed by city staff.
Although Public Works Director Vicki Nemecek said it wasn’t a specific issue she brought up, she has said that air space is the city’s most valuable resource and the landfills accept 250 tons of municipal solid waste per day. Building a new landfill, she estimated, would cost well north of $7 million.
Nemecek also said errant plastic causes machinery and litter problems. She mentioned that plastic bags and sheeting are a significant concern in the waste stream because the city views it as contamination. If people bagged all their trash, she believes many of the litter problems in Cheyenne would go away.
Cheyenne resident Kathy Russell, who happens to be executive director of the Wyoming Republican Party but spoke against the proposed ordinance in her capacity as a private resident, called it “punitive” and “political posturing.” She expressed concerns that an establishment might not be able to afford paper bags.
“I would argue that’s going to create a hardship,” she said.
Cheyenne resident Steve Borin said after traveling and working around the globe that the city needs to adjust to a “new world” and move forward the benefit to society as a whole.
Banning plastic bags “changes the vitality of our city,” he said.
Dale Steenbergen, president of the Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, said his organization deeply understands the need to preserve the environment and protect wildlife, but it questions whether the ordinance would solve these problems. He encouraged the council to eliminate the 10-cent fee, which he described as an example of government bureaucracy.
Evan Williams took the slippery slope approach, questioning whether Cheyenne is on a path to turning into another Boulder, Colorado.
“This is a red state not blue, and you guys are taking away a right, we should vote on this,” he said.
Many also criticized the description of plastic bags as single use, saying they use their plastic bags numerous times before disposal.
There was brief discussion about pushing back the start date of the ban from January 2024 to July 2024. Segrave said he found it unfair to local retailers to start the initiative only a few weeks before the start of Frontier Days, but the proposal still passed.
Council member Ken Esquibel took the high road Monday, saying all who watched the discussion are now more aware of issues related to plastic bags. He implored those in attendance to bring their plastic bags back to stores after they use them to encourage multiple use.
“Through the education piece, hopefully we go forward with a lot of learning from today,” he said.
Segrave, Aldrich, White, Cook and Pete Laybourn voted against the ban, while Johnson, Esquibel, Rinne and Scott Roybal voted for it.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.