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Texas Supreme Court decides cities cannot ban plastic bags

The Texas Supreme Court ruled against Laredo's ban on plastic bags. (Photo: zeevveez / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled against the city of Laredo's ban on plastic bags, and Austin's could be next.

The Laredo Merchants Association brought a lawsuit against the city arguing that a state law on solid waste overrides the ban.

Laredo passed the ordinance in 2014 banning plastic bags to cut down on the amount of waste in landfills and city streets.

The city tried to argue that the bags did not fall under the definition of what the state considers a "container or package," but the Supreme Court decided it did.

The Supreme Court ruled that the appeals court correctly decided the state solid-waste law preempts the city’s single-use bag prohibition. Plainly stated, the court ruled cities cannot ban plastic bags, likely opening up a challenge to Austin's bag ban, which was enacted in 2013.

Furthermore, the Texas Constitution states that city ordinances cannot conflict with state law, which would have to be re-written to allow for bag bans.

The Texas Solid Waste Disposal Act states that a local government may not adopt an ordinance prohibiting or restricting for solid waste management purposes sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton applauded the court's decision, saying that he hopes Austin and other cities that enacted bag bans will voluntarily bring their ordinances in compliance with state law.

“I commend the Texas Supreme Court for upholding the principle that no one is exempted from the rule of law. This ruling sends the unambiguous message to all local jurisdictions in Texas that they do not get to simply ignore laws they don’t agree with,” Paxton said.

Environment Texas, an organization dedicated to protecting wildlife from plastic pollution, says they are "disappointed" in the ruling.

"Plastic pollution is harming wildlife, marring the beauty of our cities, and threatening our health, safety and economy," said Environment Texas Executive Director Luke Metzger. "Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years. We call on major retailers, like HEB and Wal-Mart, to continue observing the ban in these cities and ask the Legislature to remove the preemption statute."

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