PARK CITY — Park City has become Utah's first municipality to adopt a ban on plastic bags.
The City Council voted unanimously Thursday in favor of the ban after a crowd urged city leaders to make the move to help reduce litter in the community.
But the ban, which goes into effect in late June, only affects grocery stores over 12,000 square feet — meaning only three stores will be impacted within the city: The Market at Park City, Rite Aid and Fresh Market.
The move is leaving some store managers feeling targeted, but they're generally supportive of Park City leaders' efforts to create a more eco-friendly community.
"This came from our community," Councilman Tim Henney said Tuesday, noting that a plastic bag ban has been discussed within the council since 2008, with strong support from groups such as the Park City Plastic Coalition.
"The community views itself as being on the progressive side of things, and it's fair to say that we take pride in the fact that we are the first municipality in Utah to ban plastic bags," Henney said.
About 230 municipalities have banned plastic bags in some way across the U.S. Two states have statewide bans: Hawaii and California.
Luke Cartin, environmental and sustainability manager for Park City, said the ban focuses on bags with a thickness of less than 2.25 millimeters — the types of plastic bags grocery stores commonly provide. He said such bags are infamous for "gumming up" the city's recycling equipment and contributing to the city's litter.
Instead, the stores can choose to provide paper bags, Cartin said.
The "main driver" of the ban, Cartin said, is to help preserve the "pristine natural environment" of Park City — a responsibility that is deeply instilled in residents, he said.
City officials decided to start with the city's largest grocery stores before exploring a citywide ban, Cartin said.
There is a possibility, however, that the Utah Legislature could override such a ban, but Cartin said city officials so far haven't heard any state interest to do so.
Eileen Kitner, a Park City resident, bagged her groceries in a cloth bag after she checked out at The Market on Tuesday. She said she's been using reusable bags for several years now — a habit that she thinks should become more common in Park City.
"It's the right thing to do," she said of the plastic ban. "Park City should be a leader in how we deal with our environment. Our environment is our economy."
Rob Lang, who also checked out of The Market carrying a refillable bag, applauded Park City for being the first in Utah to pass such a ban.
"You've got to start somewhere," he said.
Henry Paras, assistant manager at Rite Aid, said he's mostly supportive of Park City's intentions, but he's disappointed that the ban "singles out" three stores.
"I guess we'll just need to deal with it," he said.
Rush Hotchkiss, grocery manager at The Market, had a similar sentiment.
"We would have preferred it to be for all the stores, but we're OK with it," he said. "We're more than willing to work with the community on what they want to do. So we'll just follow along with it and see how it goes."
The new law, however, comes with a cost, Hotchkiss said. Paper bags cost much more than plastic bags — 10 cents per bag versus a half-cent per plastic bag. He said the store will try to avoid shifting costs onto their products by charging per paper bag.
"Hopefully this doesn't discourage our customers from shopping here," he said. noting that other major grocery stores that aren't affected by the ban — including Smith's and Wal-Mart — are minutes away.
Those stores are located at Kimball Junction, an area that falls under Summit County's purview, not Park City's.
Councilman Andy Beerman said he "sympathizes" with the three grocery stores, but he added that he views the law as a "first step."
"We've started with our main stores," he said. "But we do hope to expand it citywide if we see the public accepting it."
Beerman said the city also hopes to talk with Summit County to extend the ban to include the major chain stores at Kimball Junction.
Dave Davis, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, said Park City is "well-intentioned," but his industry has lingering concerns.
"I don't think what Park City did necessarily accomplished (its) goal," he said, noting that the ordinance — while also limited — simply pushes customers to use more expensive, bulkier paper bags that also contribute to litter.
He said a "better option" would be to enact fees on the bags to create a disincentive rather than stripping options away from customers.
Davis urged Park City to "engage more" with all the local businesses across the city and find a more far-reaching solution.
"It's going to take more effort than that to come up with a solution that's really going to make a difference," he said.