UPDATE, Jan. 6, 2017: Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley signed Senate Bill 853 into law on on Dec. 30, making Michigan the seventh state to prohibit local ordinances that limit the use of plastic bags, as reported by Resource Recycling. Gov. Rick Snyder was out of the state during the time of signature.
This statewide bill will further divide the nation and industry in the debate on plastic bags. In late 2016, California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags in a statewide measure — a decision that was expected to set a precedent across the nation. Moving forward it will be interesting to see if more states follow the lead of California or Michigan, and what further legislation will mean for both the waste and retail industries.
UPDATE, Dec. 8, 2016: Senate Bill 853, which would prohibit plastic bag bans or fees in Michigan, was passed by the state's House of Representatives with a 62-46 vote on Dec. 1, as reported by MLive. The bill now awaits a signature from Gov. Rick Snyder.
If passed by the governor, Michigan will join many other states including Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin in passing statewide legislation that prohibits local bans on plastic bags, as reported by Resource Recycling. This ban, however, has received some opposition from lawmakers across the state. Rep. Jeff Irwin noted that the bill is one that "attacks local control," as reported by MLive.
- A Michigan House of Representatives panel approved a bill that would prohibit local governments from adopting any type of ban or fee on plastic bags and other packaging containers, as reported by The Detroit News.
- The Republican-controlled House will now consider the bill in a full vote. The Senate approved legislation in May by 25-12 with nearly uniform support from Republican lawmakers.
- Washtenaw County is the only local government to approve an ordinance so far. Implementation of the county's 10-cent charge on paper and plastic bags has been delayed until April 2017 pending the outcome of state legislation.
Plastic bag politics are often heated, but the situation in Michigan seems to be particularly divided along partisan lines. While Republican Gov. Rick Snyder hasn't taken a position yet, Republican legislators have championed the bill as a way to curb regulatory overreach. Washtenaw County, home to the liberal city of Ann Arbor, says it spends $220,000 dealing with issues created by the bags and won't make money from the fee.
The balance between the regulatory rights of local governments and the oversight authority of states has come up often on this issue. In Massachusetts, which now has bag ordinances in more than 35 municipalities, statewide legislation is seen as inevitable if Boston passes its own legislation soon. Yet in New York local action has been held up by the state legislature and in California a statewide law has since become a target for industry opposition.
Some European countries have superseded these questions by taking a national approach on packaging. England imposed a five-pence fee on plastic bags and France has now announced its plans to ban traditional plastic dishes by 2020. With any such action very unlikely on the federal level in the U.S. the packaging debate remains a challenge that state and local governments will have to work out on their own.