Battle of the bag bans begins in Bisbee

Photo courtesy of Terry Ross
Photo courtesy of Terry Ross

On Earth Day in 2014, the small town of Bisbee passed an ordinance that put Arizona on the map for environmental consciousness.

Bisbee- population 5,360- decided to ban single-use plastic bags in all retail stores throughout the city, requiring residents to use multi-use bags for all shopping needs.

“Environmentally speaking, we have been able to notice a huge difference in just the last year,” said Bisbee City Manager, Jestin Johnson.

According to Johnson, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of loose plastic bags around Bisbee.

“After only 45 days of the ban being in place, I noticed there were no bags on or near the highway,” said Andy Haratyk, Bisbee’s Public Works Operations Manager. “The impact happened so quickly.”

According to Haratyk, litter patrol has noticed that, 90 percent of plastic bags seen in or around the city are businesses outside of Bisbee where the ordinance does not apply. The plastic bags are marked with advertising labels from stores such as Target and Walmart.

There are certain retailers that still offer recycled paper bags to customers at a charge of five-cents per bag. Out of the five-cents, two-cents goes back to the retailer to pay for administrative time and cost of the bags, while the remaining three-cents goes to the City of Bisbee Environmental Fund.

Other cities throughout Arizona, including Tempe and Flagstaff, had been looking into creating their own plastic bag ordinances similar to the ordinance in Bisbee.

However, efforts have been put on hold. On April 14  the legislature passed SB1241, making it illegal for cities to ban the use of plastic bags. Cities that were on the brink of passing their new ordinances are considering taking legal action against the state.

Bisbee was given 60 days from the signing date before the plastic bag ban is lifted.

“We are in the middle of a David and Goliath story,” Haratyk said. “These small cities are too tough to be pushed around by state law.”

Despite the new law, it is believed that retailers may continue business without single-use plastic bags whether the ordinance is in place or not.

“I’m all for the bag ban,” said Grant Sergot, owner of Optimo Custom Panama Hatworks. “Before Bisbee used to look almost like Tibet with prayer flags everywhere in the hills, it was awful.”

Sergot has been a resident of Bisbee since 1974. He explained how the ban has been a “learning process.” For most residents, it was a matter of adjusting to the new law.

“Once we understand the ramifications of what were are doing, everything became a lot easier,” Sergot said.

“Bisbee is taking the lead towards environmental stewardship,” Johnson said. “We are already acclimated to this environmental awareness.”

Johnson recalls how other cities have reached out to the town of Bisbee in an effort to replicate the city’s ordinance.

Plastic bag bans very similar to Bisbee’s have been occurring in states all across the U.S. At the forefront is California, featuring over 100 cities with a plastic bag ban or reusable bag ordinance in place. A handful of other states including Alaska, Oregon and Washington also have ordinances.

“We need to start looking at this issue and thinking about it in a more critical way,” Sergot said. “These bans are just the first steps.”

Kianna Gardner is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at


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