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Johnson County residents urge supervisors to ban plastic bags

BY STACEY MURRAY | SEPTEMBER 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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Some things — including wine, cheese, and environmental activism — are better with age.

The 100Grannies program went before the Johnson County Board of Supervisors meeting to request support for its latest endeavor — a ban on plastic bags. The supervisors didn’t vote or approve anything regarding the ban but directed the grannies to a citywide meeting. A date has not been set for this meeting.

Prior to this meeting, the organization tied together more than 1,000 feet of plastic bags to raise environmental awareness of the effects of plastic bags on the Pedestrian Mall on Sept. 9.

While the 100Grannies program plans to pursue a plastic-bag ban in Iowa City, the plastic bags might not be the biggest problem in the city’s landfill, and Supervisor Janelle Rettig expressed concerns about the initiative.

“I think we have high potential to upset a lot of people for not a lot of gain,” she said. “Our environmental challenges are so large that we have to spend our time and energy and political capital on ways that really can change things.”

While Rettig said she appreciates and admires the women for their work and said the cause is worthy, there may be bigger issues in the Iowa City Landfill.

“A big problem is when we attempt to put a ban in place we can inappropriately focus too much attention on what is a minor problem instead of what is a major problem,” Rettig said. “What is a major problem is cardboard in the Landfill.”

Jennifer Jordan, the recycling coordinator for Iowa City, agrees with Rettig on the larger landfill issues.

“If we’re going to look at doing a ban on a certain item, there are things that are more significant than bags,” she said.

Jordan said plastic shopping bags account for three-tenths of 1 percent of the weight of waste in the Landfill last year, with 3,720 pounds of these plastic bags being put into the Landfill.

“My stance has been that if the city of Iowa City is going to make a big difference, cardboard can have a bigger effect locally,” Jordan said.

While plastic bags take up three-tenths of 1 percent, cardboard accounts for 10.1 percent of the weight, or 12,625 pounds in the Landfill.

Yet Jordan doesn’t disagree with the importance of recycling these bags.

“I think education can go a long way,” she said. “Providing programs so people can and will use reusable bags will help.”

Liz Christiansen, the director of the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability, agrees with the encouragement of reusable bags.

“Obviously, the best solution here is to take your own bag,” she said.

The “vintage-aged women” continue to look for additional women to join their roughly 65-member organization and will write the legislators for support while holding events.

“Our group will try to persuade our legislators, as spineless and oil-filled as they are,” said Barbara Schlacter of the organization.

Schlacter isn’t new to environmental activism. In 2011, she was arrested outside the White House for protesting the Keystone oil pipeline.

Despite doubts from the Landfill and the Board of Supervisors, the grannies won’t be deterred.

“Yes, [Jen Jordan] has a wonderful handle on things in Iowa City,” said Anne Christenson of the 100Grannies organization. “But we have to look bigger.”


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