County seeks public comment on plastic-bag ban | News | Almanac Online |


County seeks public comment on plastic-bag ban


With the support of most city and town governments in San Mateo County, the Department of Environmental Health Services is asking the public to comment on the scope of a proposed county-wide ordinance that would ban the use by retailers of single-use plastic bags at checkout counters.

Paper bags would still be available at the counters, but customers would have to buy them -- paying a minimum of 10 cents until Dec. 31, 2014, and 25 cents after that.

The point would be to encourage people to shop with their own reusable bags, Dean Peterson, the director of Environmental Health Services for San Mateo County, told the Portola Valley Town Council recently.

An environmental impact report (EIR) is in the works. A staff report online describes the proposed ordinance and includes ways to comment, either by writing or by attending one of six public meetings, including one at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 3, in the Redwood City Public Library at 1044 Middlefield Road.

To submit written comments, write to Planner Camille M. Leung in the Planning and Building Department at 455 County Center, Second Floor, in Redwood City, CA 94063. Or email Ms. Leung at

Public comments will "help cities and local jurisdictions decide whether to ban paper and plastic bags," the report says.

Redwood City joins Portola Valley, Woodside and Menlo Park among the 18 city and town governments in San Mateo County listed as supporting this proposal. Atherton is not on the list, but then Atherton has no retail outlets. The list also includes six cities and towns in Santa Clara County.

A group effort is important in that ordinances in individual communities have been vulnerable to court challenges by deep-pocketed bag manufacturers. With an EIR, paid for by the county, this ordinance would be harder to challenge, Mr. Peterson told the Woodside Town Council in March.

"So far, no one has sued (over an ordinance) with an EIR attached," Mr. Peterson said.

Restaurants and other food service outlets would be exempt, and the ban would not affect the plastic bags used for raw or bulk foods, medicines and bags meant to prevent cross-contamination inside a shopping bag. Retailers would have to keep detailed records on bag-related costs and revenues related to complying with this ordinance.

Schedule of public meetings:

Half Moon Bay: Wednesday, April 18, at 6 p.m. in the Ted Adcock Community/Senior Center Sun Room at 535 Kelly Avenue.

San Mateo: Thursday, April 19, at 5:30 p.m. in the Oak Room at San Mateo Public Library at 55 West Third Ave.

Mountain View: Wednesday, April 25, at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers at 500 Castro St.

South San Francisco: Thursday, April 26, at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Services Building at 33 Arroyo Drive.

Campbell: Wednesday, May 2, at 6 p.m. in the Campbell Public Library at 77 Harrison Ave.

Milpitas: Thursday, May 3, at 2 p.m. in Room 140 in the Barbara Lee Senior Center at 40 North Milpitas Boulevard.

Redwood City: Thursday, May 3, at 6 p.m. in the Redwood City Public Library at 1044 Middlefield Road.

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Like this comment
Posted by Christina
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 18, 2012 at 8:22 am

Yes! This is an important step in the right direction! Just take a look at the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and its clear that this is a no brainer. Yes, this may be slightly less convenient, and a little more expensive (25 cents) until we all get in the habit of bringing bags, but lets not be short sighted. Everyone was worried when SF banned plastic bags. I was living there and it went off without a hitch.

Like this comment
Posted by Parker
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 18, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Yes, ban plastic bags immediately, but do not charge for paper. Paper is environmentally friendly,already widely used, and sanitary. Cloth reuseable bags are often dirty and highly unsanitary. They must be laundered often, if not after every use,and many people do not do this. Diry bags can spread germs and disease in your home and out in public.

Like this comment
Posted by Margo McAuliffe
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm

I support this fully and have used cloth bags for over 20 years. I launder them about once a year, whether they need it or not! I am not aware of having contracted any disease from this, as most items from a store are already in too much plastic. This is only step one.

Paper bags are not environmentally friendly, even if they are made from wood waste. It takes a great deal of water to make paper. I'm always amazed at people who shop several times a week, each time expecting a new, free bag. They use it for what, an hour or so, then throw it away (possibly recycling it). Sometimes I'm told "I use it for my old newspapers" and I wonder why. It's easy to put my old newspapers in the recycling without a paper bag.

It's important for us to be serious about reducing our use-once-and-throw-away life style. You have to train yourself to put the bags back in the car, but surely you can do that! And while you are at it, take your cloth bags to the pharmacy and other shops. If you buy 1 or 2 items, just carry them out. "I don't need a bag" should be everyone's response.

Margo McAuliffe

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Ban the plastic bags ASAP. I've been using recycled paper bags from Trader Joe's for years - they're strong and have handles that make carrying them a dream. Unless they get wet or torn, they last for months and when they do wear out they just go into the recycle bin.

Like this comment
Posted by gunste
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Apr 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm

We have always reused plastic bags for our garbage container or recycled them at the local Safeway. I also shop with reusable bags.
If the plastic bags are banned, I shall have to buy some for lining our garbage container.
The problem is the people who toss them irresponsibly and litter the landscape, not the plastic bags. - You don't ban fattening hamburger to cut obesity, nor do you legislate two persons per car to reduce traffic jams and air pollution. Littering is a people problem. When is the last time you saw someone pulled over and given a ticket for a stiff fine on the highways? It is an unenforced law.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm

But unlike littering, this one seems enforceable and that it could easily be enforced.

Like this comment
Posted by Margo McAuliffe
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 18, 2012 at 6:10 pm

If you google "biodegradable garbage bags" you will find you can buy a life-time supply for not very much. I also bought biodegradable pet poop bags. There is no reason to send any plastic to the land fill where it will sit until it deteriorates, as which time it will pollute the soil.

Margo McAuliffe

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2012 at 7:36 pm

Margo - you're very right. Here, in the lower income community of EPA, we use the biodegradable ones, both for garbage & for our dog walks. If we can do it, so can most others - it's a matter of priority, in my experience.

Paper is wonderful, except the creation uses way too much water, which is becoming a much more precious resource.

This is a good thread to mention the plastic bag "art" on Embarcadero in Palo Alto right by the Gamble Garden Center, in front of the lawn bowling green. They're big models of lawn bowling balls made of plastic bags that the artist & her helpers- school kids- all collected. It's ironic that they're on a lawn that needs constant gardening, but it's a sight to behold - they're made out of literally THOUSANDS of used & collected plastic bags.

The problem IS the bags, whether they're reused & then eventually dumped or if they're litter. Eventually, they'll break down & they're toxic.

Like this comment
Posted by John Smith
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2012 at 10:33 pm

This brought out all the enthusiastic anti-plastic-bag folk, not a population sample, but a very lopsided set of views.
Some of us prefer freedom. Typically this means fewer laws. Often, seeing a child in a rear-facing rear seat which is safe but not plesant for the child, I am reminded of our joyful drives with the kids wherever they wanted to be. Today we'd be arrested for being so unsafe. We gave up joy to buy safety.
Now these noisy few want us to give up the convenience of plastic bags because some slobs discard them carelessly. These same noisy few may dump on John Smith, whoever he is.

Like this comment
Posted by Aquamarine
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Oh! Poor John Smith getting his rights trampled on. Good luck getting riled about that one, John. Plastic bags can easily be replaced, unlike this planet. It's not like just a few people discard them carelessly. Why not actually get informed about the issue instead of so reactive? Would that tread on your perceived rights? We all have rights - and that includes the right to build a future on earth for our descendants and all of wildlife - which we rely on in order to live.

Like this comment
Posted by papa's got a brand new bag
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:28 am

Menlo park can chosse to be an innovative leader or a blind follower. If Menlo Park, instead of banning plastic bags, only bans non-degradable plastic bags it could be a leader. As far as pricing is concerned that should be left to the individual retailer.

Innovative grocery stores such as Roberts in Woodside and many others give people a credit for bringing their own bags and provide their bags as a convvenenience at no charge.

Biodegradable plastic bags are the answer.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Parker
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:43 am

Regarding sanitation and reusable bags, let us remember:
Reusable milk bottles were replace with paper cartons for reasons of sanitation
Reusable cloth handkerchiefs were replaced with paper tissues for reasons of sanitation
Reusable kitchen towels were replaced with paper towels for reasons of sanitation
Reusable syringes were replaced with disposable syringes for reasons of sanitation
The list goes on and on.
Let us not go backward. Let us not ban or charge for the sensible, sanitary use of paper bags or biodegradable plactic bags.

Like this comment
Posted by N Jackson
a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I have used the same cloth bags for 30 years to carry my purchases from all stores. Can you even imagine how much petroleum I've saved, not to mention all the trees? Biodegradable bags are manufactured using energy and shipped using even more energy. I have never been sick because of my bags (see the study by the CDC). I buy plastic bags when I need them. That way, it's a conscious choice. When something is free, the privilege is usually abused and the consequences hurt all of us.

Like this comment
Posted by papa's got a brand new bag
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 20, 2012 at 6:58 am

Trees are a renewable resource. In fact if forests are not thinned you get forest fires with huge carbon footprints. It is good for the environment to thin forests to avoid massive forest fires.

The added benefit of thinning forests are that you get wood and paper products that people need.

There are two types of biodegradable plastic bags:

1) Biodegradable plastic bags and

2) Petroleum-based plastic bags.

Biobiodegradable plastic bags are made from raw materials like pea starch, corn, trees, plants, grass, and all organic materials that decompose. Petroleum-based plastic bags simply contains additional substances that facilitate the decomposition process.

Obviously biodegradable plastic bags are the preferred choice.

There are the several benefits of using biodegradable plastic bags:

a. Biodegradable plastic bags take less time to break down. Biodegradable plastic bags take much less time to break down after being discarded, if they haven’t been recycled, of course. What this means is that it gets absorbed in the earth, and there will no longer be tons of plastic dominating our landfills.

b. Biodegradable plastic bags are renewable. Biodegradable plastic bags are made from biomass, which is a completely renewable resource. It is an organic compound, which breaks down. There is plenty of it around the globe. Biomass includes pea starch, corn, trees, plants, grass, and all organic materials that decompose. This may even include animal fats, meats, and other tissues.

c. Biodegradable plastic bags are good for the environment. Biodegradable plastic bags are much better for the environment, because there is no harm done to the earth when recovering fossil fuels. Also, in this process there are very few greenhouse gas and harmful carbon emissions. Regular plastic bags need oil for their manufacturing, which pollutes the environment.

d. Biodegradable plastic bags require less energy to produce.
Biodegradable plastic bags need less than half the energy to produce than their non-biodegradable counterparts. This means that it is possible to make twice the amount of biodegradable packaging and biodegradable bags using the same amount of energy.

e. Biodegradable plastic bags are easier to recycle. Biodegradable plastic bags are created from materials that are fully biodegradable. This means that they can break down much faster and recycling them takes less energy. Biodegradable plastic bags can be reused more efficiently, which gives them a clear advantage.

f. Biodegradable plastic bags are not toxic. Traditional plastic bags are full of harmful by-products and chemicals, which are released during their breakdown process. Biodegradable plastic bags are completely safe and do not have any chemicals or toxins. This plastic harmlessly breaks down and gets absorbed into the earth. Such advantages of biodegradable plastic bags are of extreme importance, as the toxic plastic load on the earth is growing and at this rate will cause a whole range of problems for future generations.

g. Biodegradable plastic bags reduce dependence on foreign oil. The use of biodegradable plastic bags will decrease the country’s dependence on other countries for fossil fuels. The majority of the oil that is needed to make regular plastic bags comes from the Middle East, which has not always been friendly toward the U.S. Biodegradable plastic bags are created from domestic biomass materials, so it reduces the dependence on foreign oil, providing a domestic solution instead.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Thank you for all of the info, Papa. BTW - love your handle!

Like this comment
Posted by Kathleen Baker Rice
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 20, 2012 at 3:25 pm

YES, ban those bags!! Ban styrofoam while you're at it!!!! But start with the bags. It is so easy to take a canvas bag to the store, or a string bag, or whatever-bag-you-have bag. I've been using canvas bags for over 20 years and it's second nature and one of the prime things we can do to save our beautiful planet. Thank you for taking this under consideration. Good job! KBR

Like this comment
Posted by surfdog
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 24, 2012 at 10:41 am

Papa and others are right on, we need biodegradable bags. We need the kind that will break down if discarded. The bags that are just compostable do not break down in landfills, only in rare commercial composting facilities, and they are a contaminate to the recycle stream. If we need bags, we must insist on the kinds that protect the recycling process, but if they are needed to be discarded, they can go to a landfill where they will break down. Ironically, right now, Senator Mark Desaulnier, along with Californians Against Waste, have created a bill to stop this kind of innovation because the CORN Lobby is behind promoting compostable plastics. We need to call him and let him know of our support in embracing innovative ideas that will help our environment, not just help the worlds largest privately held corporation -Monsanto.

Like this comment
Posted by Dave Miller
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Apr 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

I guess we have come full circle. 25 years ago everyone was pushing to ban paper bags because of the deforestation. As a result we went to plastic. Now that we see the results of the past 25 years of plastic bag damage we want to make another change (which is good).

However, people are so uneducated about the facts they are making decisions based on opinions (which are not good). The facts are the paper making process is MUCH more environmentally damaging than the current solution of plastics. And I'm not refering to just the tree loss, its the water consumption, fossil fuel use, and pollution.

Our society is growing at an alarming rate. Whatever option we choose will eventually become a problem again just as a result of our growth and desire to consume more and more. Reusable bags also have problems as they are not as sanitary as single use bags. You will also begin to see packaging reflect our choices for the bags.

As usual the issue of "bag or not to bag" like most of what we Californians do is address the result of the bigger issue and does NOT address or will solve the actual problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Jon
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Well said Dave!

I refer all of you self-righteous, we-have-to-ban-it-now-for-the-sake-of-the-planet folks to the late, irrepressible George Carlin who nails this whole issue to the proverbial wall in this famous bit from years back:

Web Link

Enjoy (and learn something beyond your own group-think mentalities)!)

And now I'll duck from all of the verbal tomatoes that will no doubt be hurled in my general direction :) ...

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