The ban was supposed to go into effect, but was halted by the pandemic — and the health and safety concerns that came with it.
Plastic bags will soon be a thing of the past in Cleveland grocery stores, thanks to a decade-long push by Cuyahoga County councilwoman Sunny Simon.
This legislation passed in 2019, but implementing the ban was put on hold due to the pandemic. Simon, who has worked on this issue for a full decade, says she expects the ban to go into effect by the end of 2022 — and looks to it as an important step in decreasing plastic waste.
“We’re looking at having more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050,” she says. “Every piece
of plastic that has ever been produced is still on the planet, and that’s going to end up either in
landfills, in our soil or in the waterway.”
Simon points to cities like Washington, D.C., which has charged five cents for each single-use
plastic or paper bag since 2010, and Bexley, Ohio, which implemented a plastic bag ban
Simon will be working with local businesses over the coming months to help them transition to
using paper bags. Cleveland stores and restaurants will still be able to use plastic bags when
packaging takeout, deli meats and bakery items — and dry-cleaning bags will be exempt from the ban, as well.
Simon recognizes this could be a burden to businesses and shoppers but emphasizes that
there are alternatives. “There’s a middle way here, and that’s for consumers to bring their own bags,” Simon says. “That really has to be just the new way of living, and hopefully the grocers will get on board with promoting that.”
In December 2019, Giant Eagle announced it will be offering perks to customers who bring reusable bags to their stores. Pointing to this program, Simon hopes more businesses will incentivize the use of reusable bags.
The ban was supposed to be implemented in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it potentially dangerous for shoppers and store employees to use reusable bags which could spread the virus. Not only did the pandemic prevent a reduction in the use of plastic bags, it has generated a whole new category of waste – masks.
“It’s been cataclysmic in terms of waste,” Simon says. “When you see [masks] on the street or the parking lots, they end up being washed into the sewers and the drainage and end up, ultimately, in the river, in the lake.”
Some studies estimate that globally, roughly three million disposable masks are thrown away every minute. People also started shopping online more — and Simon says the packaging these orders contributes to the pandemic-generated waste.
“We’re inundated with packing materials that we didn’t see before and it was expedited by the pandemic, so we’ve got the masks, we’ve got all the packaging,” Simon says. “It’s been really, really difficult to figure out how to get our way out of this, but we’re gonna have to try.”