- The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments Jan. 11, in a case that could make plastic bag ordinances illegal in the state. The City of Laredo is arguing for the right to keep its plastic bag ban, which the Laredo Merchants Association sued to block.
- At issue is the Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act, which states local governments may not "prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law" or "assess a fee or deposit on the sale or use of a container or package." Laredo argues that the state law applies to solid waste and plastic bags given out at the point of sale don't count. The Laredo Merchants Association says the bag ban violates state law, because a bag is a container or package.
- There is no deadline for the court to issue an opinion, but a decision is expected by early July, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
The legal battle in Texas has brought out a perhaps-unexpected coalition of environmentalists and cattle ranchers, some of whom are in favor of bag ordinances to keep their livestock from ingesting plastic bags, causing injury or death. If the Texas Supreme Court rules in favor of the Laredo Merchants' Association, it would likely have statewide ramifications. Outside of Laredo, that means Austin, the state's capital, could see its bag ordinance overturned. Houston, which filed a brief in support of Laredo's ban, could see local efforts stymied.
However, according to attorney Jennie Romer, who's been involved with bag legislation around the country, the justices may side with Laredo and let the ban stand. While they could have simply been playing devil's advocate, Romer said, the justices gave the Laredo Merchant's Association a lot of "pushback."
"I think there's some room for 'home rule' to win over the justices there," Romer said in an interview with Waste Dive.
It is also unlikely that a ruling against the ban would reverberate outside of Texas. The Texas Supreme Court is making a ruling on state law, so other states would have little reason to defer to the ruling.
But the opposite ruling could have a small effect, Romer said. If it were a ruling in favor of Laredo, that allowed the bag ban to stand, it could "give other people hope," Romer said and encourage legislation in other states.
And there are plenty of states where that could happen. Following Boston's adoption of a plastic bag ban, other cities in the Northeast may be inspired to follow suit. Additionally, local governments in South Carolina and Ohio could turn those states into battlegrounds, according to Plastics News. South Carolina, for example, has seen some local ordinances, but the state legislature is likely to consider a preemption law this year.