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Sonoma County plastic bag ban nears

Approval in April could mean countywide implementation by summer


Sonoma County shoppers take note: the next few months are likely the last to get plastic bags in grocery store checkout lines and at other retail shops.

A proposal to ban carryout plastic bags at those outlets and to levy a 10-cent fee on paper bags has reached the final set of government steps before officials weigh its approval this spring.

Oliver’s Market employee Dustin Minch puts Nancy Allen’s groceries in her cart while she checks out at the Montecito Center store, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

A draft environmental report is due out this week. After reviewing that report and accepting public comment, waste management officials could approve the study in April and adopt the countywide ordinance thereafter. A ban could be implemented this summer.

By that time, the regulation, now enacted in dozens of California cities and many counties, will be five years in the making for Sonoma County.

“This is an issue whose time has come,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire, who has promoted the proposal. “We are finally moving forward and taking action to ban plastic bags.”

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency would adopt the ordinance and enforce the ban.

The regulation is meant to shift consumers to reusable bags to reduce litter and address other environmental impacts. An estimated 300 million plastic and paper bags are used in Sonoma County every year.

The ordinance would cover local cities and the unincorporated county. It would affect a wide range of outlets, including grocery, clothing, hardware and drug stores, electronics vendors, convenience and liquor stores.

It would not extend to bags used to hold meat, vegetables or prescriptions, or apply to restaurants or stand-alone delicatessens, thrift stores or other nonprofit charitable operations. It would also not restrict the sale of plastic bags for trash and other uses.

The regulation would take on the established habits of shoppers who’ve favored plastic bags in checkout lines since the late 1970s.

Some said the switch, to paper bags for a fee or reusable totes, would be a hassle.

“I don’t see a problem with the bags if you re-use them,” said Becky Scrivanich of Santa Rosa as she loaded groceries into her car outside of Oliver’s market. “I have five cats so I need them for litter-box cleanup.”

Shoppers who already have switched to previously used bags or reusable totes said they either wouldn’t mind the new regulation or would welcome it.

“I think it makes sense,” said Nancy Allen, also of Santa Rosa, as she went through the checkout line at Oliver’s. “After all, we used to do without them.”

For years, opponents of plastic bags saw their work on bans in California turned back in Sacramento and in legal challenges by the plastic bag industry.

Recent regulations, including a model ordinance passed by the City of San Jose that targeted plastic and paper bags, have been more successful.

Sonoma County officials sought to craft a proposal along those lines. Recent changes would ease requirements for vendors in reporting paper bag sales over the first three years.

The current proposal would keep the customer fee for those sales at 10 cents a bag. Originally, it was set to go to 25 cents a bag in 2014, but waste management officials said the 10-cent fee — the most common statewide — is enough to provide incentive to prompt bag reuse while not being punitive.

Officials also have proposed making a vendor’s first violation of the ordinance a warning instead of a $100 fine. The $100 penalty would kick in on a second violation and would rise to $200 for a third violation in a year and $500 for a fourth violation.

“We don’t want to come out just with guns blazing,” said Patrick Carter, an administrative analyst with the waste management agency.

Enforcement would be triggered by complaints to the agency, which does not anticipate a need for additional staff as a result of the new duties. “We found that in other cities it’s just not been necessary,” Carter said.

The ordinance can be adopted only by a unanimous vote of the waste management agency’s 10-member board, which is made up of representatives of each of the nine cities and Sonoma County.

The outlines of the proposal and work on the environmental report were endorsed last year by the county Board of Supervisors and by the councils of seven cities. The review for Santa Rosa came in a council study session; for Rohnert Park, it came through a committee.

Before any final vote, waste management officials are likely to hold public presentations this spring with each of the cities and the county, Carter said.

The public will have 45 days to comment on the 230-page environmental report after its release this week. The waste management agency will also hold a public meeting Feb. 20 to discuss the report.

The study found no significant impacts resulting from the ordinance. Air and water quality and wildlife are expected to benefit from the regulation, Carter said.

The report cost the waste management agency about $41,000, or far less than the budgeted amount of $150,000, largely because of the growing number of jurisdictions now pursuing bag bans.

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)

14 Responses to “Sonoma County plastic bag ban nears”

  1. scot says:

    Added expense, longer lines, less convenience, penalizing the responsible… sounds like liberals.

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  2. Jim says:

    Curious to know where the 10c tax goes and what agency will oversee the new slush fund.

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  3. The Hammer says:

    This is simply bullsh__! Fix the damn roads!

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  4. Steveguy says:

    The plastic bag ban is a public health hazard. Period

    Where has that bag been ? Brought into a grocery store where you expect clean food ?

    Where is the Health Department to put an end to this biohazard ? This is life or death to me. Seriously.

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  5. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    Plastic is a contributor to the nemesis effect; the accumulation of mankind’s pollution which increases environmental pressures on natural cycles.
    There are over 7 billion humans adding to the accumulation of pollutants. The only way to reduce our pollution may be to control our population growth.

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  6. Evan says:

    “I think it makes sense,” said Nancy Allen, also of Santa Rosa, as she went through the checkout line at Oliver’s. “After all, we used to do without them.”

    We also used to do without grocery stores, antibiotics, cleaning agents, refrigeration and the thousands of laws and taxes levied upon us by those in Washington. I’m all for saving the environment, but our society is legislating itself to death. More rules are needed as population grows and things evolve, but where will this end? Will the county throw you in jail for watering your lawn in the dry season? Add a fuel surcharge if that fuel is non-renewable? All of these things may sound sensible, but as laws build up, the cost of enforcing them is driven ever higher. In a state constantly fighting off bankruptcy, let’s do something to truly get things moving in the right direction again.

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  7. StarsUponThars says:

    Reality Check:

    the bags for produce/meat (i’ve never seen a plastic prescription bag)are the ones available in the produce/meat areas; not the same as the ones that they bag up your groceries in. so, different bags. just fyi.

    like the woman in the article, we rely on our plastic bags (especially the olivers ones! which never have holes and are made from recycled plastic anyway) for cleaning litter boxes, and i have no idea what we will do once we stop being able to get them! better stock up now…

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  8. Logical Thinker says:

    So this is an environmental issue? Now we ban the plastic bags that were produced to keep us from killing all the trees that produced paper bags because the plastic bags pollute. But only ban them at grocery stores, and don’t ban the clear bags that hold meat or veggies because none of those bags, or any bags from a restaurant or non-profit EVER end up going astray? Interesting, but it seems as if there are too many exceptions, as usual. Ifwe eally want to help the environment, why don’t we ban the non-degradble cellulose filters on cigarettes that are tosse out of vehicle windows or thrown on the ground by the THOUSANDS in Sonoma County daily? Oh, that’s right, because of the tax money that is generated from tobacco products and their sales. Hmm, money versus the environment? Money wins again! Has anyone calculated what an average family(who hasn’t spent $20 on re-usable bags, which harbor germs and bacteria, and will use power because they need to be laundered and sanitized, thus polluting even more) will spend at $.10 a bag during a years time? I’m betting it’s more than just a couple dollars!

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  9. Jim says:

    I’m so glad the government tells the people what they can and can’t do. The endless regulation by the brilliant people in government helps me sleep better at night.

    Don’t forget that we use plastic bags because the brilliant people in government forced them on us because paper, recycled or not, was said to be killing ALL the trees. Plastic was the answer. Well, amazingly the government was wrong. So no paper, no plastic, we have to bring our own bags. Sweet. Not worth the effort to me.

    Luckily the hassle will push more people to shop online, putting the union grocery stores out of business and many more people to government dependence. Glad they extended unemployment. You see, when people are limited in how much they can carry (based on the space in their own bags) a lot of excess consumption will go away. The same logic applies to smaller dinner plates. Smaller plates = smaller meals = less consumption. If I have to bring in my own bag, I’ll only carry what fits in it, thus I’ll purchase less. Less purchases, less revenue for stores, less sales tax for cities, less workers are needed. I won’t bother running to the CVS to pick something up, I’ll order it from Amazon. Saves me the gas. Oh look, less gas tax.

    The government doesn’t realize that their endless regulation DOES cause people to change their way. The problem is that the government dopes are too short sighted to see the consequences of their actions. Look at the decision of changing to plastic in the first place.

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  10. R.B. Fish says:

    The stores are all for this because it increases their bottom line. They make more money because instead of building the cost into the product price consumers have to pay extra but the price remains the same. In small supermarket/grocery stores you can pull all your vegatbles in as many plastic bags as you want but have to pay for take out bags. It phony, hypocritical and does absolutely nothing to correct environmental issues associated with plastic garbage. Some of us are pigs and discard garbage, i.e. garbage in the streets. The meat police are coming!!!

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  11. John Pendergast says:

    Is stuff like this exhausting or what? So many fascist little minions trying to limit or exterminate any choice we as individuals have in society. It’s the rule of know-it-all cat ladies who read a book about some seagull hopping around with a bag on its head.

    The science isn’t even behind this, but who cares, it’s all about feelings. It’s all about action based on whims of tofu eating narcissists.

    There’s no escape in this country for common sense. We’re caught between judgmental hippies and judgmental bible thumpers. “Let me tell you how to live.” that’s all I hear from people these days.

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  12. Steveguy says:

    If I may, I have some links that confirm my public health concerns.

    But first, I have a real stake in this bag ban. Sure, there are many people that use them myself included, and generally they are people that care about things. I am afraid the ‘lower on the Bell Curve’ folks won’t take the care with the bags that is necessary for public health concerns. I have no problem with the Prius drivin’ folks going to Trader Joe’s and FINALLY being able to park, and then using reusable bags. It’s the ones that you DON’T want any of their bags anywhere near you that bothers me. Big time.

    Where is the County Health person on this ? I am serious, this is a huge concern for those with limited immunity.




    There are more, Google it.

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  13. Reality Check says:

    “It would not extend to bags used to hold meat, vegetables or prescriptions, or apply to restaurants or stand-alone delicatessens, thrift stores or other nonprofit charitable operations.”

    Hmm, so a store may provide me with a bag as long as my purchase includes one of the above items. (Or will there be monitor to make sure no verboten items are commingled in bags? The Orwellian potential here is interesting.)

    Assuming no enforcement monitor, then as a practical matter it doesn’t apply to grocery stores either.

    Why, pray tell, are non-profit stores exempt? This looks like nothing more than upfront bias against stores that earn a profit and pay taxes. We wouldn’t, after all, want to encourage too much of that.

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  14. Steveguy says:

    Why FORCE a business to charge 10 cents for paper ? Are they going to fine a store that gives them away free ? ( My local corner store has used only paper, never plastic for decades)

    Where have those used bags been ? In the backseat with a dog ? Then you want to put that suspect bag on a counter where fresh food is checked out ? I see a VERY serious public health issue there. Really- I don’t want your scrungy old bag sitting where my fresh bag (plastic) of lettuce is headed for ! Really

    There are also far more plastic bags IN the bag than the bag itself ! Think about it. Heck one shampoo bottle could probably make 100 bags. That hot dog package ( custom sausage for the foodies) is heavy plastic and could make maybe 3 bags by weight. On and on. Look INSIDE the plastic bag, and most everything is in plastic. So they ban ONE of the myriads of plastic containers, and a minuscule amount by weight.

    AND- “We don’t want to come out just with guns blazing,” said Patrick Carter, an administrative analyst with the waste management agency.

    Oh, the bag police will wait a few months for that. I foresee SWAT teams raiding a corner market holding everyone in place at gunpoint. Call it a ‘revolutionary act’ and bring in the FBI, Homeland Security and the TSA.

    For the public health concerns–

    I am VERY concerned, as I have an immunity disorder. Very concerned. The CDC (Center for Disease Control has even come out with findings and concerns.

    Oh my, now they want to kill me.

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