Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Council Asks Legislature Not to Limit Local Control Over Plastic Bags and Other Containers

Birmingham City Council. (Source: Sam Prickett)

The Birmingham City Council passed a resolution Tuesday opposing two bills in the state Legislature that would prohibit municipal and county governments from regulating the use of plastic bags and styrofoam cups.

The bills in question are SB244 and HB346, both of which would remove local governments’ authority to regulate or prohibit use of “auxiliary containers,” which are defined as disposable or reusable materials designed for “transporting, consuming, or protecting merchandise, food, or beverages from or at a food service, manufacturing, distribution, processing, or retail facility.” That includes plastic bags, styrofoam cups, bottles, plastic straws and more.

Last week, Councilor Darrell O’Quinn expressed concern about the bills, arguing that they would detract from the city’s ability to combat litter, which often consists of single-use containers. “We have to expend city funds and all sorts of city resources to get litter off our streets,” he said. “This is something that has a profound impact on quality of life in the city of Birmingham and we need the capacity to regulate it.”

The resolution passed Tuesday argues that, “without local control to regulate auxiliary containers, municipalities will be faced with increased expenditures, inadequate landfill space, and challenges with clean water supplies that will become adverse to the public’s interest.” The resolution urges the Legislature to oppose the bills and calls for public hearings on the issue throughout the state.

Both bills have passed committee and are awaiting votes on the House and Senate floors.

Last week, the city passed a similar resolution in opposition to SB264, which would limit local governments’ ability to interfere with or regulate the installation of “small wireless facilities and poles on public rights-of-way” by telecommunications companies. That bill remains in committee.

Though it had been reported that another ordinance requiring Birmingham retailers to provide reusable containers or containers made of recyclable or compostable materials would be presented to the council Tuesday, that didn’t happen. Instead, a vaguely worded ordinance setting penalties for unspecified auxiliary container “violations” was added to the agenda as an addendum; O’Quinn withdrew the item before the council could discuss it.