Almanac

News - January 30, 2013

Menlo Park, too, bans plastic bags at checkout counter

by Sandy Brundage

Earth Day (April 22) will see the end of single-use plastic bags at the checkout counter in Menlo Park. The City Council voted 5-0 to join the county in enacting a new ordinance banning the use of plastic bags by retailers, but made a few modifications to the law.

The changes include a new clause that allows the council to vote on whether to locally implement any changes San Mateo County makes in the future.

The county Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance in October 2012. The ban, prohibits the use of plastic bags by retailers, except those used by restaurants and for produce, and also implements a 10-cent fee for paper bags. On Jan. 1, 2015, the fee increases to 25 cents per paper bag and reusable bag provided to customers.

Retailers that fail to comply with the ban will be fined $100 for a first violation and $200 for a second. Starting with a third violation, a retailer will be fined $500 each day the store remains non-compliant. The ordinance authorizes the county's environmental health department to enforce the ban.

Menlo Park, along with 24 other Peninsula cities, decided last year to support the county's ordinance, in part to save the city the expense of conducting its own environmental review.

Although Councilwoman Cat Carlton had urged the city to consider allowing biodegradable bags, staff said their research indicated that those types of bags were likely to end up as litter, given the conditions required to break them down. Staff also cited a lack of regulated standards defining what counts as a biodegradable bag as a factor in not including that option.

Before casting her vote during the Jan. 22 council meeting, Ms. Carlton reiterated that compostable bags should be considered, saying that she was "not terribly happy" with the ordinance as is, but not "$50,000 to $75,000 (worth of) unhappy with it," referring to the cost to Menlo Park for an environmental impact report should the city choose to write its own ordinance that conceivably could include biodegradable bags.

Council members Kirsten Keith and Peter Ohtaki agreed that the option was worth evaluating; Mayor Ohtaki said he would write a letter saying so to the county supervisors.

City staff will give free reusable bags to residents and retailers through July 1 to help with the transition.

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