Get ready, plastic bag ban begins Oct. 1

An ordinance passed last November by the City of Cordova banning non-biodegradable carryout bags and polystyrene foam disposable foodservice containers goes into effect Oct. 1.

Plastic carry sacks commonly used as grocery bags will be banned in Cordova as of Oct. 1.

A City of Cordova ordinance passed nearly a year ago, banning the use of plastic, non-biodegradable carryout bags and polystyrene foam disposable foodservice containers, goes into effect on that date.

Ordinance 1137, chapter 8.37, of the Cordova Municipal Code was passed and approved November 18, and signed off on by former mayor James Kacsh.

The ordinance will allow for biodegradable bags.

Per the ordinance as written, biodegradable means, “that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature and decompose into elements found in nature within a reasonable short period of time after customary disposal.”

The Cordova Future Problem Solvers and the Eyak Preservation Council led the “Bag It,” campaign last year, in an effort to get people used to the idea of using reusable bags for everyday errands such as shopping, carrying mail or carrying groceries home.

EPC Program Director Emily Stolarcyk spearheaded the push to get rid of plastic bags in Cordova.

“Tiny Cordova uses 1.2 million plastic bags a year,” Stolarcyk said. “As an off the road community we have many issues with not only the amount of waste produced per person – which is twice the national average, but also waste disposal methods.”

Carol Hoover is the executive director of the EPC. Hoover said there’s a difference between recyclable plastics and biodegradable plastics. The community should understand that nearly all forms of plastic are not biodegradable.

“One thing I have found,” Hoover said, “Is that many people do not realize that recyclable is different than biodegradable. In fact, most all forms of plastic-anything are not biodegradable. Plastic just breaks down into smaller and smaller bits of – plastic. This is extremely harmful for all kinds of wildlife, marine life and fish, and is toxic as well.”

Hoover said she’s heard that local vendors are going to be getting biodegradable bags in preparation for the Oct. 1 ordinance going into effect. She urges caution when purchasing bags that will come into compliance with the new law.

“Sometimes even biodegradable bags have a hard time biodegrading,” Hoover said.

Last year the EPC raised money through a crowd-funding event to buy and give away eco-friendly, reusable cloth cotton bags to each household in Cordova.

The folks at the EPC started well-ahead of the Oct. 1 deadline, with hopes that the bags would remind shoppers to bring their own carryout bags to the stores.

“The EPC provided the bags for free to residents last year. We hope to print more of them,” Hoover said.

One business owner, Mary Barrow Little, said she isn’t too worried about the plastic bag ban.

Barrow Little owns and operates Laura’s on Main Street and is comfortable with the change.

Laura’s is a coffee shop, convenience store and package store. For years the business has predominately used paper bags, using plastic bags only when a customer specifically requests it.

Barrow Little said she expects the transition away from plastic, one-time use carry bags will be a hard transition for some.

“Paper bags are far more expensive and not always secure,” she said, “Especially with our wet weather.”

The advantage long-term is saving the planet. The short term advantage is that the plastic bag ban has the potential to save Cordova’s businesses quite a bit of cash.

For example, one box of 500, one-time use plastic carry bags are $28.26 without shipping, if ordered through an online supply chain. A 10-pack of reusable, cloth grocery totes sells for $20 through Amazon and ships for free. Standard-duty, brown Kraft paper grocery bags via a wholesaler online sell for $35.82, for 500 bags, not including shipping costs.

According to the EPC, Cordovans use 1.2 million plastic carry bags annually. That’s approximately 6-cents each. If shoppers bring their own reusable cloth totes to carry their goods home in, then that’s saving local businesses about $56,520.

Barrow Little said they’ve purchased some reusable bags for resale to their customers, but so far, people haven’t shown much interest in buying them.

“I don’t consider the plastic bags to be a very big concern,” she said. “Most of them are reused till they fall apart, then recycled. I think the ban is more advisory than anything else. There was no discussion of enforcement or fines.”

Emails to City of Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin asking about potential fines or how city government intends to enforce the plastic bag and polystyrene foam ban were not returned as of press deadline.

Other ongoing recycling efforts in Cordova continue.

Barrow Little has used her business as a drop facility for No. 1 and 2 plastics, bottles and glass for about a year and a half. Cordovans loaded their recyclables into the back of her pickup truck and hauled them to Anchorage where she’d dispose of them at a recycling facility.

Currently the Copper River Watershed Project took up the project on a larger scale and is collecting clean No. 1 PETE and No. 2 HDPE plastics for recycling.

CRWP, the Native Village of Eyak and Alaska Commercial Company are teaming up for a plastics collection event. Originally scheduled for Friday, the event has been postponed to late September.

Barrow Little said she continues to transport tin and steel cans, and plastic bags and wraps to Anchorage for recycling.

The new City ordinance is – for Cordova, another collective step in the right direction.

“As a community that depends on the health of the ocean,” Stolarcyk said, “It is great to see us taking the initiative to move towards more sustainable practices. Just think – every piece of plastic ever created and thrown away on earth still exists in one form or another.”

The best thing the community can do starting today, is bring their own bags or use boxes, Hoover said.

For complete details on the plastic bag and polystyrene foam container ban, read Ordinance 1137, chapter 8.37, of the Cordova Municipal Code here: 

http://cityofcordova.net/government/mayor-council/ordinances

Would you like to know more about how long it takes plastics to biodegrade? Visit Science: How Stuff Works at

http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/how-long-does-it-take-for-plastics-to-biodegrade.htm

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.