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County gives thumbs up to plastic bag ban



The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday gave its formal support to an ordinance that would ban carryout Plastic bag banplastic bags at checkout lines countywide and add a 10-cent fee for each paper bag.

The 4-1 vote, with Supervisor David Rabbitt dissenting, constitutes the county’s direction to its appointee on the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, the joint county-city body that has been studying and developing the ban for two years and would adopt and enforce the ordinance.

Supervisors said it was long overdue. Similar measures have now been implemented in more than 75 cities and counties across the state. That list now includes Los Angeles, where councilmembers approved a bag ban Tuesday, making it the largest U.S. city to do so.

“In many ways as a county we are really behind the curve here,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents the county on the waste management agency board.

The ordinance needs unanimous support from all 10 voting members on the board. Three cities — Sonoma, Windsor and Sebastopol — have given their support so far.

Rohnert Park, where council members have voiced concerns about impacts on businesses, could represent a hurdle. The city council is set to take up the measure June 25.

The regulation is meant to shift consumers to reusable bags to reduce litter and address other environmental impacts. An estimated 260 million plastic bags and 46 million paper bags are used in Sonoma County every year.

American shoppers have favored plastic bags in checkout lines since the late 1970s. But many end up in landfills after a single use or end up cluttering the landscape and water bodies.

“Plastic bags have choked our local streams since their introduction,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire. “Moving forward with this ordinance will improve our local environmental conditions for years to come.”

Rabbitt, the board chairman, said he was not opposed to a ban on plastic bags, but he voiced opposition to the fee on paper bags, calling it a tax.

“An involuntary fee is a tax. You can’t get a bag unless you pay the fee,” said Rabbitt. “I just have a philosophical objection to that charge.”

The collected paper-bag fees would remain with vendors. Supporters said the charge was needed to push consumers more quickly toward reusable bags.

“I see it as an incentive, an incentive not only to get folks to change their mindset but to learn,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo. “At some point in the future, I think this (shift to reusable bags) will be a really simple thing for folks to do.”

The paper bag charge also has helped local governments avoid lawsuits from the plastic bag industry which has argued successfully in past cases that unilateral plastic bag bans simply shift environmental impacts to paper bag production and use. Ordinances with the combined plastic bag ban and paper bag fee have either withstood or sidestepped such court battles.

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 California Grocers Association has backed countywide measures on carryout bags over patchwork policies by different municipalities. Legislation targeting plastic bags was defeated last month in the state Senate.

In Sonoma County, local governments have clashed over the issue. In 2008, Santa Rosa officials put the brakes on a ban, calling instead for greater recycling of plastic bags.

A 2007 state law requires large supermarkets and drug stores to accept the bags for recycling. The range of bags recycled at those stores is 2 percent to 7 percent, state studies show. No reliable data exists for bag recycling through curbside service, according to a spokesman for CalRecycle, the state solid waste agency.

The county Waste Management Agency has set July 17 as a tentative date for its board vote, though agency officials said meetings with cities could push that schedule back to August.

In addition to Rohnert Park, city councils awaiting their say include Healdsburg, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, Cloverdale and Cotati.

If approved, the ordinance could go into effect in January. County waste management officials said the agency would look to alert businesses and shoppers of the change and assist low-income shoppers with free reusable bags distributed through social service agencies.

“This is the way for the county to have a unified approach in moving this forward,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin.

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

7 Responses to “County gives thumbs up to plastic bag ban”

  1. Follower says:

    When I find myself shopping in “banned bag” store and plan to buy more than I can carry, I buy an apple & put it in a produce bag. I’ll buy as many single pieces of fruit as I need to have plenty of free bags to carry what I need.
    So much for your bag ban.

  2. Bad Math says:

    Wow, I bet the fixed income seniors and working poor single mothers will really appreciate the 10 cent fee.

    I think Zane and Carrillo have done more damage to the working class in their terms than all of the past Supervisors. They are ideological buffoons.

  3. Rex Faktor says:

    What if the same places that accept and pay for bottles and cans also accepted plastic bags for a tiny amount each? This would solve the problem of bags that are not properly recycled and strewn about, causing all this excess stream chokage.

  4. Not convinced says:

    Once again, responsible citizens make up for the irresponsible ones who litter in the streets? Now I have to spend more money on of all things, trash. Money that could have gone to my kids education and welfare. doesn’t make any logical sense.

  5. Reality Check says:

    “‘Plastic bags have choked our local streams since their introduction,’ said Supervisor Mike McGuire.”

    It’s too bad another supervisor didn’t ask McGuire to name one local stream that had been “choked” by plastic bag litter. Then they should have gone out to inspect this stream in dire need of cleaning.

    Plastic bag litter is a problem, but it justify the endless hyperbole of politicians.

  6. bear says:

    Every single plastic bag I’ve ever brought home has been used for the disposal of pet waste. So it all goes to the landfill. Now I buy plastic bags off the shelf, and they all go to the landfill, too.

    The real problem is outdoor enthusiasts who don’t care to properly dispose of the plastic bags that held their beer.

    And the pitiable homeless who don’t care, either.

  7. Petaluma Dave says:

    Why don’t they go all the way and just ban bags old and new. Let the customers only buy what they can carry in their hands. That way the land fills will remain open and free and life will be good in this utopia called Sonoma County.

    It will increase trips to the store and provide more gas taxes to maintain the welfare state and bus systems.

    Now isn’t all of this just a great idea?