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Ban on Plastic & Paper Throw-away Bags Under Spotlight

The long-discussed "plastic bag ban" for West Contra Costa County cities, including El Cerrito, appears to be picking up steam with a formal public comment period now under way. Throw-away paper bags also would be banned.

Updated, Aug. 12, 12:45 p.m.

El Cerrito and the other cities in West Contra Costa County have launched a formal review period for a proposed "plastic bag ban," which would apply also to throw-away paper bags.

The cities have been working with RecycleMore, the waste management agency for West Contra Costa, to jointly develop a model ordinance for the ban, which would be considered by each jurisdiction for adoption. The county is involved too since the law could apply to unincorporated areas of west county.

The law would prohibit any retailer, except restaurants and non-profit charitable organizations that sell used goods, from providing a single-use plastic or paper bag at the "point of sale" (cash register) for taking items from the business.

The ban would not apply to bags used to transport items inside the business, such as bags used by manufacturers to package goods or bags provided in the produce section of grocery stores for customers to carry produce to the check-out stand.

An exception would allow "recycled paper bags" to be issued at the check-out stand if such bags are not made from old-growth trees, contain at least 40-percent recycled material and are 100-percent recyclable. The merchant would be required to charge at least 5 cents for such bags or for reusable bags. Two years after the ordinance is adopted the retailer can make the recyled paper bags available for a minimum of 10 cents a bag.

Offering recycled paper bags or reusable bags to customers to carry goods out of the store would be required, not an option. Customers on low-income government assistance programs would not be charged.

The customer receipt would have to show the number of recycled paper bags provided and the amount charged for them. And retailers would be required annually to report to the city manager (or designee) the number of recycled paper bags provided, the amount collected for such bags and a summary of efforts to promote reusable bags. 

Enforcement would be up the city managers (or designees) of each city. A violation would first trigger a warning, with subsequent violations subject to fines that could reach $500 per day.

"The proposed ordinance is intended to facilitate and encourage the widespread use of reusable bags – bags that can be used multiple times, not once or twice and then discarded," according to a RecycleMore study of the proposed ordinance.

The RecycleMore study, known formally as an "Initial Study," is the first stage of required environmental review mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act. The study, which includes the draft ordinance in the appendix, is attached to this article.

As part of the environmental review process, RecycleMore also announced its intent to adopt a "Negative Declaration," which means that the Initial Study found that no adverse environmental impacts would be caused by the ordinance and that an Enivornmental Impact Report is unnecessary. The notice of intended Negative Declaration also is attached to this article.

RecycleMore is required to submit the proposed Negative Declaration and Initial Study for public review and a 30-day comment period. The comment period began Aug. 6 and ends Sept. 5. The agency will also hold two public hearings during the comment period:

  • Hercules Public Library, 109 Civic Dr., Aug. 15, 6:30 p.m.
  • Richmond City Council Chambers, 440 Civic Center Plaza, Aug. 28, 5:30 p.m.

Recyclemore said its board will also hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance and that prior to adoption each jurisdiction would do the same. The member cities are El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo, in additon to Contra Costa County.

The 165-page Initial Study includes extensive information about the threats to wildlife and the environment caused by discarded plastic bags. It also discusses the costs of throw-away paper bags, including the loss of trees and environmental toll of their production and even the process of recycling them.

Mark Kay August 12, 2012 at 07:39 PM
It's about time. The only thing sadder than seeing people using these crappy plastic bags is watching them blow into our waterways on their way to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Wake up, people. Our throw "away" culture will eventually kill us.
Betty Buginas August 12, 2012 at 08:56 PM
I was excited to try home delivery through Safeway.com not long ago and even chose the 4-hour delivery window, billed as more environmentally friendly because the driver can choose the most efficient route. Unfortunately, they packed many items 1 or 2 to a bag and I ended up with a depressingly large pile of plastic bags.
Toni Mayer August 13, 2012 at 06:38 AM
I have many canvas bags which I keep in the trunk of my car and a year or so ago started reusing the smaller clear plastic bags for my produce. We do use the handled grocery bags to collect and contain our newspapers and other papers for the recycling pickup. If they were banned we'd figure out some other method. I would like to see a ban on styrofoam containers like Berkeley has.
Susan August 13, 2012 at 05:30 PM
Ban plastic, yes. Not sure about paper bags though - while I don't use them much myself that seems a bit restrictive.
Paul D August 14, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I've got a very hand PATCH canvas bag we use for shopping.
Toni Mayer August 14, 2012 at 06:32 PM
Yup. That's one of mine.
Ed Pigus February 06, 2013 at 02:40 AM
This is another example of government over-reach. If you want to use disease-transporting canvas bags, that's your choice. Don't force it on everybody else. This is America, not the Soviet Union. Freedom is what it's all about. Plastic bag bans harm the poor more than anybody else, too, by the way.

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