Sierra Club’s open letter to Minneapolis City Council: Stop the #TumbleBag



Dear Council Members,

As the #tumblebag campaign makes disturbingly clear, plastic bags are ubiquitous in our urban environment. When it comes to the plastic littering our streets, sewers, parks and lakes, less would definitely be more – which is why the Sierra Club strongly supports Council Members Gordon and Warsame’s proposal to ban single-use plastic bags and institute a small fee on single-use paper bags.

Plastic bags linger indefinitely, never decomposing but rather breaking down into smaller plastic pellets. They harm wildlife, clog drains, gum up recycling facilities, and blight the landscape. Moreover, their manufacture creates greenhouse gas emissions and pollutes our air and water.

Minnesotans discard 87,000 tons of plastic bags each year. And in Minneapolis, the plastic bags that don’t degrade into tiny toxic pellets in our yards, parks and waterways instead end up in the downtown HERC incinerator, potentially contributing to public health problems like childhood asthma.

But plastic bag waste is not an immutable fact of life. Other U.S. cities – including Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. – have demonstrated that a plastic bag ban is doable, and that it leads to a dramatic reduction in plastic bag litter.

Minneapolis, an aspiring Zero Waste community, belongs with these other cities at the forefront of smart environmental policy. Their experience shows that the transition, if thoughtfully managed, can go smoothly – and that the benefits will be concrete, substantial, and swift.

  • A plastic bag ban in San Jose reduced bag litter in “approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system, 60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in city streets and neighborhoods,” according to a report from San Jose’s Transportation and Environment Committee.
  • After enacting a plastic bag fee of five cents, Washington, D.C.’s bag usage dropped from about 22 million each month to three million the first month the fee was in effect, according to the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue as reported by The Washington Post.
  • One recent study from Austin, TX, found that the amount of plastic bag litter in town was a quarter of what was found in another city without a ban. (

The Sierra Club applauds and endorses the Bring Your Own Bag proposal calling for a ban on single-use plastic bags and a small fee on single-use paper bags. The Sierra Club also supports the following exemptions:

  • Reusable bags over 4 mil in thickness
  • Produce bags without handles
  • Dry-cleaner, newspaper, and door-hanger bags and plastic bags sold in packages containing multiple bags intended for use as garbage bags or to contain pet waste
  • Bags without handles to safeguard public health and safety during the transportation of prepared take-out foods and prepared liquids intended for consumption away from the retail establishment
  • Customers using vouchers or electronic benefit cards would be exempt from paying the .05 paper bag fee

Our city’s ban on polystyrene takeout containers, which took effect nearly a year ago after initially meeting with intense opposition, demonstrates that businesses and citizens can adapt to and even embrace seemingly ambitious changes like this. The environmental benefit would be well worth the initial effort. If Austin and Portland can do it, the City of Lakes can – and should – too.


Mathews Hollinshead

Conservation Chair
Sierra Club North Star Chapter


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