More states have banned the bans than have banned the bags.

By Mike Pomranz
Updated January 31, 2020
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Growing concerns over plastic waste—especially from single-use items like bags and straws—has been a huge topic of discussion in recent years. As a result, a number of U.S. states have passed bans on these items. But thanks in part to America’s polarized political landscape, we’ve seen another, opposite response as well: Other states have chosen to pass bans on these kinds of bans themselves, preempting local governments from stepping in and taking matters into their own hands.

According to a report released last week from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), currently, eight states have banned single-use plastic bags—California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont—and similar bans have been passed elsewhere in individual municipalities. But astonishingly, 15 states have taken measures to stop these kinds of bans, preempting plastic bags from being banned by anyone but the state itself. The NCSL says Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin all have this kind of legislation on the books.

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Now, we may be adding South Dakota to that list. Yesterday, the South Dakota Senate voted 22 to 12 in favor of a bill prohibiting individual municipalities within the state from banning “auxiliary containers,” things like plastic bags, straws, and food and beverage containers. According to the Washington Times, at this point, no such bans exist anywhere in South Dakota regardless.

Interestingly, the reasons for supporting the ban ranged from nuanced to inane. Republican State Senator John Wiik, who co-sponsored the bill, provided a pretty compelling explanation by arguing that the sparsely-populated state is so spread out. “We [residents of small towns] don’t get to participate in the ordinance of these towns… But we have very little choice but to participate in the commerce of these towns,” he was quoted as saying. “I don't expect hockey parents from Pierre to know if Watertown or Mitchell has a ban on ‘auxiliary containers,’ and I don't believe that people who live in areas near big towns should have those decisions made for them,” he added on his blog, according to CNN.

However, Republican State Senator Jeff Monroe offered up an explanation that could make even a casual environmentalist’s head explode. “Every time I think about a plastic coffee can getting thrown in the river, it doesn't bother me at all because it sinks to the bottom and it's habitat for baitfish, it's habitat for crayfish, if you like to eat those, and I really don’t have a problem with that,” he said in a clip posted to DRG News.

Despite the result, the bill did face criticism from both parties during debate in the Senate. According to the Sioux Falls’ Argus Leader, Republican State Senator V. J. Smith objected to how the bill would take away control from local governments—a once common Republican talking point. “Sometimes I wonder when we move forward with a 'We know better than you' attitude, I don't think that's always helpful,” he was quoted as saying.

Still, having passed the Senate, the bill now moves on to the House which has a nearly equally-proportioned Republican majority.