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Unalaska Will Explore Legislation Banning Plastic Bags

Berett Wilber/KUCB

Unalaska has taken its first official step toward banning plastic bags.

On Tuesday, the City Council tasked the city manager with developing an ordinance to prohibit the flimsy, disposable bags used at grocery stores.

Councilors issued the directive unanimously after hearing from Unalaska resident Laresa Syverson.

"It’s not that a plastic bag ban is going to solve all our problems," said Syverson. "But it will help with the way we depend on plastic."

Syverson requested the ban on behalf of a community task force that wants to reduce the number of bags littering Unalaska’s beaches and polluting the wider ocean.

She said seafood drives the island’s economy, so Unalaska should help protect the ocean from plastic.

"At our current rate, it could choke fisheries around the world by 2050," she said. "Imagine catching more plastic than fish."

Similar appeals went nowhere in 2013, when Unalaskans last tried to ban plastic bags. But now, the idea is catching on with the council.

"I support your efforts to try to figure out a way to get less plastic blowing around the community," said Councilor Dave Gregory. 

Still, councilors said they probably won’t vote on a ban until sometime next year.

They want the city manager to nail down the types of plastics that would be prohibited and check in with local stores before any legislation is written.

Public Utilities Director Dan Winters said the city also needs time to rally support from the fish processing industry, which brings in thousands of seasonal workers each year.

"Whatever does come down the line, the people have to care," said Winters. "If the people don’t care, especially the transients coming in — if they don’t care like the locals care, it’s not going to go anywhere."

If the city approves a ban, the island will join a half dozen Alaska communities that have prohibited plastic bags, including Kodiak, Wasilla, and Cordova.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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