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Fargo could consider banning plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam containers

FARGO -- John Strand is floating an idea in the City Commission race: a possible ban on plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam take-out food containers to curb the clutter around town.

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A plastic bag seen stuck in a tree near the intersection of First Avenue South and Seventh Street in Fargo on Sunday, May 1, 2016. (Rick Abbott / Forum News Service)

FARGO -- John Strand is floating an idea in the City Commission race: a possible ban on plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam take-out food containers to curb the clutter around town.

Strand is not pushing for an outright ban. Instead, he proposes a community dialogue to bring together various stakeholders, including grocery stores and other merchants, to see if the idea has any support.

"I'd want to open the discussion formally," he said. To be successful, he added, "It really takes a community discussion and buy-in."

A number of cities around the country, including Minneapolis and San Francisco, have banned plastic bags, and the policy appears to have broad support, Strand said.

He posted his idea on Facebook, in a video that showed a white plastic bag drifting in the wind with the Fargo Civic Center as a backdrop. The idea came to him when he kept seeing bags stranded in trees, including one near his office and others in his neighborhood.

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"Whenever I'm driving around I see them all over the place," Strand said, suggesting more needs to be done to encourage residents not to litter. "We need to step it up."

The issue of litter from plastic bags and Styrofoam food containers is admittedly not a hot-button issue in the crowded City Commission race, Strand said. It ranks well behind top concerns including taxes, workforce development, public safety and flood control. The idea isn't even part of his platform.

Still, Strand thinks it's a public discussion worth having. "There are little things that we can do that make a big difference," he said.

Most of his rivals in the commission race appear to agree that the litter issue is worth discussing, according to emailed responses. None advocated a ban without first thoroughly discussing the issue.

"We should absolutely consider creative initiatives that have been implemented in cities around the country, including steps already being taken here in Fargo, where some businesses provide discounts for those who bring in their own reusable bag," said Mara Brust. "It is possible to provide both incentives to encourage use of reusable bags and deterrents to the use of plastic bags by both businesses and individuals."

Tammy Linn supports a public dialogue on all forms of litter, but doesn't advocate a ban. "I would not propose a ban of plastic bags because this is not government's job." She added: "This is a private business choice."

Instead, Linn favors an educational role by city government. Dozens of stores already have plastic bag recycling containers, she said.

"If you drive down Veterans Boulevard, it becomes apparent that waste from plastic bags and fast-food containers are an issue," Joe Burgum said, adding that many cities have adopted policies that Fargo could learn from. But first, he said, it would be important to start a dialogue with stakeholders.

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Lance Yohe and Robin Nelson said they welcome a discussion on the issue. One candidate, Scott Wagner, doesn't see the need for a community dialogue on the plastic-bag-and-container litter issue.

"We do not need to workshop every issue in the city of Fargo," Wagner said. "We need leaders to lead and make good decisions for residents, both now and for the future. We have significant community issues - permanent flood control and drug use and abuse - that need immediate attention."

Wagner doesn't support a ban. He noted that many stores, including the biggest grocers, already have taken some steps. Hornbacher's, for instance, began offering reusable canvas bags in 2007, and several stores have offered them for free over the years. Some stores also offer discount incentives for customers who bring their own bags.

"City leaders must be focused on taxpayers first without government interference on issues that can be addressed by individual choices," Wagner said.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
Phone: 701-367-5294
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