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Unalaskans Want To Follow Other Alaska Communities By Banning Plastic Bags

Feb 14, 2018


Currently customers at Unalaska’s Safeway can choose to have their groceries packed in plastic bags, paper bags, cardboard boxes, or purchase reusable bags.
Credit Berett Wilber/KUCB


Some Unalaskans want the city to ban single use plastic bags. Twenty-five residents met last week to strategize on how best to make their case to the city.

Mary Heimes says for a community that relies on the ocean, eliminating the bags should be a no brainer.

“You know we pull a lot of money out of the ocean in this community and we have a social responsibility to take care of the environment,” Heimes said.

This is not Unalaska’s first attempt to ban single use bags. In 2013 a petition asking the city council to “eliminate the use of plastic bags by Unalaska stores” circulated around the community, but went nowhere. In Alaska, the bags have been banned in KodiakWasillaBethelCordova, and Hooper Bay. Homer briefly prohibited the bags, but the ban was overturned by voters.

This group is prepared for pushback against their efforts — from stores and restaurants.

“I’m all for the environment,” said Safeway store manager Abe Palmer. “I’m not against the plastic bag ban, but when you look at the overall picture the people who are going to suffer are the people in the community.”

Without plastic bags, Palmer worries it will be difficult for people who walk with their groceries. He says rainy weather would destroy paper bags. And Palmer says a plastic bag ban would make groceries more expensive.

“The elevated cost of what a paper sack is is five times what it is for a plastic sack,” Palmer said. “All those costs would not be absorbed by the company. It would be absorbed going out into the customers’ market.”

He thinks education and reestablishing the recycling program could have the same effect as a plastic bag ban.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson says whether it actually is more expensive to eliminate single use bags is a matter of weighing immediate versus future costs.

“It may be expensive to me to get rid of my garbage, so I’m going to pass that on to future generations,” Robinson. “That’s what we’re faced with on this island. [Our] landfill is filling up a bit quicker than they expected.”

Robinson says he has asked for the issue to be scheduled for discussion at a city council meeting next month.