Atlanta to weigh ban on plastic bags and straws at Hartsfield-Jackson, city buildings

Legislation proposed by an Atlanta city council member would ban the use of plastic bags, plastic straws and Styrofoam by tenants at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and in other buildings owned by the city.

“The time to act on sustainability was yesterday,” said the bill’s sponsor Amir Farokhi in written comments. He added that airport restaurants and shops are among the “major consumers of these harmful products.”

The bill was co-sponsored by 10 other members of the 15-member council, and will be heard by the transportation committee and finance/executive committees on Aug. 14.

“I think there’s strong political will to act on this,” Farokhi said.

But it’s still early in the legislative process, and details of the proposed ban could change as council members hear from businesses, city agencies and departments.

It’s yet to be seen how much it would cost airport tenants and others that operate in city buildings to replace plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam. In addition to the more than 300 concessions at the world’s busiest airport, there is also a cafeteria at Atlanta City Hall and recreation centers throughout the city.

“Over the course of the upcoming legislative discussion and any work sessions we have, we will get a greater sense of the economic variables at play,” Farokhi said.

Hartsfield-Jackson two years ago began calling for concessionaires to eliminate Styrofoam and to use compostable materials, which initially prompted push-back from airport restaurants. The initiative reduces the amount of plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam in airport waste, according to airport spokesman Andrew Gobeil. He said it's too early to determine the cost of implementing the city's proposed plastics ban, "but we look forward to working with our concessionaires and airline partners to address the measure."

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, the dominant carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson, last year announced plans to cut the use of plastic straws and other plastic items on flights and in airport Sky Clubs. A Delta spokeswoman said the airline is "aggressively working toward" reducing single-use plastics.

Farokhi also plans to pursue a measure for the city to work with private retailers in the city to replicate the plastics ban at grocery stores and stadiums, through a companion resolution.

But he added that the ban for city buildings would need to move forward first. “Before we can ask private companies to change their behaviors, we need to behave accordingly,” he said in a statement,

Some other jurisdictions have already banned certain plastic items, including bans on single-use plastic carryout bags and plastic straws in California and a plastic bag ban set to take effect next March in the state of New York.

But some of the bans in other parts of the country exempt restaurants or fast food outlets, while the proposed Atlanta ban as currently written would apply to all airport tenants including food and beverage concessions.

“My belief is we should be as aggressive as possible,” Farokhi said. “This is one thing our city can do to promote sustainability.”

Farokhi said he looks forward to working with the airport “to discuss what’s possible and the appropriate timing of a ban on single-use plastics.”

Other airports have implemented their own measures, including San Francisco International Airport banning the sale of single-use plastic water bottles starting Aug. 20.

Kroger announced last year it will phase out plastic bags by 2025. Starbucks announced last year that it would phase out plastic straws by 2020.

But in 2015, the Georgia House voted to reject a state Senate bill that would have barred cities and counties from banning plastic bags.

Fulton County this year worked on legislation to cut down on plastic waste but its experience showed the complexity of rolling out such measures.

The county, which includes much of the city of Atlanta within its boundaries, passed a resolution in April to eliminate single-use plastics from county buildings. Then Fulton county commissioners suspended the program and acknowledged that they acted too quickly and hadn't given it enough thought. In July, the commissioners voted for new legislation to reduce the use of single-use plastics through a more phased approach, repealing the earlier resolution.

Fulton County chairman Robb Pitts released a statement in July saying “we hope other jurisdictions will adopt legislation to improve our environment through a team effort between government, communities, and industry.”