An ordinance to ban plastic bags in grocery stores and retail stores larger than 10,000 square feet in San Luis Obispo County will be voted on at a public hearing today.
If passed, all stores that fit inside the guidelines of the ordinance will be required to eliminate plastic bags before Oct. 1. This gives stores a “grace period,” so plastic bags that have already been purchased by the stores won’t be wasted. It is also there to give stores time to educate and inform people about using boxes and reusable bags to carry their purchases, rather than plastic bags.
The ordinance would require stores to charge customers for paper bags if they forget or choose not to bring something to carry the items they purchase. The stores are supposed to charge 10 cents — roughly what the bags cost to them. The production of paper bags typically has more of a negative impact on the environment than the production of plastic bags. For this reason, the paper bags the stores use must be at least 40 percent recycled content, they can’t be made from old growth trees and there must be a paper bag recycling container in the front of the stores.
According to Integrated Waste Management Authority Manager Bill Worrell, his office has received a little less than 100 emails and calls regarding the plastic bag ban, most of them in favor of the ordinance.
“We’re hoping at least 75 percent of people will go to reusable bags,” Worrell said.
In 2006, a bill was going to ban plastic bags. The plastic industry lobbied against the law with an offer to recycle the bags. In July 2007, AB 2449 passed, requiring stores to have in-store recycling programs for plastic bags and to require plastic bags to be labeled with “return to the store for recycling.”
According to Worrell, only 2 to 3 percent of plastic bags are recycled.
Fourteen counties in California, and many in other states, have already passed similar ordinances banning plastic bags.
“We’ve worked for the last six months to get an ordinance that everyone supports,” Worrell said. “On the other hand, there are people that don’t support it.”
Worrell said some members of the Integrated Waste Management Authority think that the choice to not use plastic bags should remain voluntary. He said they believe that if people are educated more about using boxes or reusable bags, they will use them more.
Worrell said he always carries reusable bags in his car but often forgets to bring them in the store. He said if plastic bags are outlawed, bringing reusable bags into a store will become as natural as remembering to bring your wallet into the store.
Over the weekend, a group identifying themselves as the Environmental Safety Alliance called and emailed people in San Luis Obispo County urging them to oppose the plastic bag ordinance. The automated phone calls told people reusable grocery bags could transmit food-borne illnesses and cause health problems, and if people are concerned about reusable bags contaminating their food, they can use boxes instead. The organization declined to reveal their financial supporters.
“I was concerned with what they had to say but I didn’t think it was complete information,” secretary of Integrated Waste Management Authority Carolyn Goodrich said. “It made me wonder how they got my phone number because my number has never been listed.”
The Environmental Safety Alliance cited a study funded by the American Chemistry Council to support their argument that the plastic bag ban is a bad idea. That council leads the movement in opposition to plastic bag bans across the country.
“People in this county don’t fall for that type of B.S. — mobile calls that distort the truth,” San Luis Obispo city council member John Ashbaugh said. “People in this county are skeptical, and they realize when they’re being taken for a ride. They’re not going to be taken that easy.”
Worrell said that Integrated Waste Management Authority wants smaller stores excluded from the plastic bag ban since they don’t routinely buy large amounts of plastic bags.
Anyone may speak in front of the 13 elected officials on the Integrated Waste Management Authority board before they vote on the proposed ordinance. The hearing will be held at the Board of Supervisors Chambers on Monterey Street. This is the second of a mandatory two votes for the ordinance. The first vote took place last year when there was a seven to five vote in favor of passing the ordinance.