BY CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A proposed county-wide ban on carry-out plastic bags gained a little more traction this week as Windsor became the second city in Sonoma County to endorse the idea.
The council unanimously agreed that discontinuing use of the plastic bags, which are ubiquitous at grocery stores, is good for the environment and reducing litter.
But council members also decided there should be a “disincentive” for using paper bags — basically a nominal charge — so that consumers don’t simply switch to paper.
Ultimately, the goal is a widespread consumer shift to reusable bags.
“Once you’re in the habit, it’s easier to do – to bring your own bags,” said Councilwoman Debora Fudge. “I’m super excited to support this today.”
“It’s an idea whose time has come, an issue communities will really rally around,” predicted Councilwoman Cheryl Scholar.
The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, which is proposing the ban, is making presentations to the nine cities in the county, all of which would need to endorse a unified county ordinance.
Petaluma this week expressed its support for the proposal.
Still to be determined is whether the ban should extend to department and drug stores and whether smaller retailers should be exempted.
There have been recent failed legislative attempts in Sacramento to ban carry-out plastic bags statewide and charge for paper.
Meanwhile, other jurisdictions have gone ahead with their own bans, including Marin County, San Francisco, Fairfax, San Jose, Palo Alto, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Los Angeles County.
Mendocino County supervisors in April authorized an environmental study as part of a move toward banning plastic carry-out bags.
A trade group spokeswoman for plastic bag manufacturers on Thursday said that bans are misguided.
“We support recycling as a viable alternative to taxes on plastic bags and bans,” said Allyson Wilson, a representative for the American Chemistry Council.
Her organization maintains that recycling of plastic bags and plastic wrap increased 31 percent since 2005.
“Plastic bags are a good choice,” she asserted, adding that it takes 70 percent less energy to manufacture than a paper bag.
Wilson said that the vast majority of consumers report re-using plastic grocery bags for households tasks – such as handling dirty diapers, pet waste, or wet clothes after a trip to the beach.
“Plastic bags have a useful function and people rely on them,” she said.
“While plastic bags may be convenient, they have wreaked havoc on the Sonoma County environment and the Russian River. We must do better,” countered North County Supervisor Mike McGuire, who said the bags are still a problem despite the fact they can be recycled in curb-side bins.
He said most plastic bags wind up in waterways, littering the countryside, or in landfills where they don’t degrade.
McGuire pointed to a story in the Washington Post that reported a dramatic decline in use of carry-out food and grocery bags after plastic ones were banned in the nation’s capital and a five-cent charge was placed on paper bags.
The total number of disposable bags used went from 22.5 million per month to 3 million.
McGuire said the ban also benefits retailers because they no longer have to provide the bags to consumers, and some of the money charged for paper bags is used to clean up waterways.
Paper bags also are considered problematic because they produce more greenhouse gases and take up space in landfills.
The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency said banning single-use plastic bags is one of the first steps citizens can take to slow down the use of products made from oil, that also contribute to global warming during the manufacturing process.
In addition, the bags clog recycling equipment and substantially contribute to ocean litter, according to proponents of a ban.
In recent years there has been more awareness about a massive “gyre” in the Pacific Ocean of floating plastic objects that harm marine life, although there is a dispute over its size.
Windsor council members spoke of personally picking up plastic bags littering the landscape, whether on the highway, or along the Russian River.
Fudge said that during clean-up campaigns on the river, she has seen a plethora of plastic bags in tree branches.
“These are all going out to Jenner and to our gyre in the Pacific,” she said.
Salmon said the many different types and colors of plastic bags he sees along the freeway are not deliberate litter, but “fly out of cars.”