City council votes to move forward with bag reduction effort

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- Paper or plastic?

It’s a phrase you've heard time and time again at your grocery store.

Tuesday night the Eau Claire City Council took the first steps in cutting down on waste when it comes to the future of retail bags in stores
In an 8 to 2 vote, Council members approved recommendations made by the Sustainable Bag Committee in a 2013 report.

“It really sets us forward in five years to hopefully have an 80% reduction which is what the report is calling for ,” City Council member Andrew Werthmann said.

Werthmann was one of a handful of members of the Sustainable Bag Committee that spent countless hours coming up with a plan for the future of bags in the City of Eau Claire. The goal of that report is to reduce plastic bag usage by 80 percent in the city over the course of several years.

“We have decided to take a different approach than other cities across our country and across Wisconsin. That is starting with a free market approach of education and not putting regulations in place,” Werthmann added.

That plan recommended in the Sustainable Bag Committees report has three phases. The first is an education phase meant to encourage the public to reduce bag use and educate them on recycling.

The second phase would have retailers offer incentives to consumers who bring their own bag. The third step would be the requirement phase which would only be implemented if the city did not reduce bag use by 65 percent in phases one and two.

Despite tonight's council vote, there were some reservations on what the measures could mean for the future of business. The C.E.O. of the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce says he hopes the focus is mainly on education before consumers start being penalized for their bag usage.

“They need to have a couple years of education and have the people change naturally in reducing the number of bags before they all of the sudden get to a penalty phase or an enforcement stage,” Bob McCoy said.

The city says the Sustainability Commission will have the next few months to come up with plans for the first phase of the project.

Once those plans are made, the City Council will vote on how to start educating shoppers about the plan.

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