GARDEN CITY — In western Kansas, where everyone knows how much the wind blows, loose plastic bags can travel great lengths across the high plains.
That is, unless they get caught in a fence or tree branch.
Along Garden City's entryways, lining fences and accumulating in ditches, local officials agree that litter — especially disposable plastic bags — is a nuisance and eyesore, and they continue to debate ways to abate the problem that extends beyond city limits, as well.
Finney County Commissioner Larry Jones said picking up beer bottles and untying plastic bags from shelter belts along his property has been an increasing problem, especially over the last 10 or 15 years.
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During a joint meeting last week between county officials and officials from the cities of Holcomb and Garden City, Jones suggested that the cities and county pick a date in the near future — maybe 2013, the commissioner suggested — to ban the use of disposable plastic bags by area retailers.
"I don't know if it would work, but it might at least be a starting place," Jones said.
Just more than a year ago, Garden City commissioners charged the city's environmental advisory board with examining and levying a recommendation on how to minimize the impact of plastic bags on the community.
After discussion with local business owners and public feedback about the litter problem, the advisory board found that about 70 percent of about 800 residents think plastic bags are a trash nuisance within city limits, and about 80 percent think they are bad for the environment.
The board made a recommendation that the city work to educate residents about reducing and properly disposing of litter, primarily through social networking sites and public signs. At the same time, city commissioners agreed that publicly-initiated support and visibility of programs such as Earth Day and small cleanup efforts should be adopted and encouraged.
In October 2007, Walmart and Sam's Club stores began selling reusable bags made of recycled materials that also can be recycled when they wear out. They made a public commitment in 2008 to reduce their plastic shopping bag waste globally by an average of 33 percent per store by 2013, using a 2007 baseline.
Target has followed suit and now gives customers a 5-cent discount for every reusable bag they use to pack their purchases.
National moves such as those could help abate the local plastic-bag problem, said Micah Kasriel, chairwoman of the city's Environmental Issues Board, which has been asked to revisit the issue.
"If Garden City were to ban plastic bags, it would be the first in Kansas to do so," Kasriel said.
"We've got these gateways, and there's plastic bags all over them and stuck in trees and on the fences. It's an aesthetic problem, but then they also go down the drains, and we have to pay city employees to go clean those out."
City Manager Matt Allen said putting a ban on plastic bags still may be part of the local discussion on the litter problem, but all the issues will need to be weighed as the city's advisory board or city commissioners address the problem.
"I think part of it, too, is that if the retail industry is moving towards solving something itself or are along that path, is it necessary for government to jump in front of that?" Allen asked.