Letter: Fee for paper bags is outrageous | March 27, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - March 27, 2013

Letter: Fee for paper bags is outrageous

Some too narrowly focused and overenthusiastic "protectors of the environment" have convinced many Peninsula city councils to enact an ordinance regarding the use of plastic bags by our businesses.

While the intent to reduce plastic bag polluting is admirable, the sample ordinance that many local governments have promoted is overreaching, has provisions that are probably illegal, and certainly creates unnecessary difficulties for our struggling small businesses as well as their customers.

The ordinance not only prohibits plastic bags, but mandates that businesses charge their customers a minimum specified amount for a paper bag. Initially the minimum amount is 10 cents and it later rises to 25 cents.

Since when does any government in the United States have the authority to tell people they may not give something away but have to charge for it? The city councils could just as easily pass an ordinance stating that you may not give a piece of candy to a child, but that the child must pay for it. (After all, candy is not very good for the child — shouldn't the city council take action to stop it?)

This is complete absurdity. Note that this is not a "tax." The money does not go to the city but is retained by the merchant. (As a tax, it would have been illegal without a vote). How can anyone believe that payment requirement to be a legal mandate? Mayor Bloomberg revisited?

The ordinance goes on to attempt to define what makes a non-conforming bag acceptable (part of the definition being that it does not have handles), and defines the proper construction of paper bags.

The basic intent to remove polluting plastic bags is admirable, but the method is illegal, and ill-advised. I sincerely hope that merchants in the city will have the courage to refuse to collect the mandated fees, and that the city councils involved will undo, or at the very least intelligently revise, these poorly thought-out regulations. Can anyone suggest how to package a new unwrinkled prom dress in a paper bag made of re-used material? Stupidity in government needs to be resisted.

Alan Lambert, La Honda Road, San Mateo County


Posted by That's not my bag, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 27, 2013 at 3:21 pm

You would think that the paper products industry would launch a lawsuit against the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Remember these are the geniuses that lost over $150 M of the school County schools' money to Lehman Bros. These people are dilettantes and incompetents and have no business being in elected office.

Even in California it would be hard to find a judge that would agree that the Government can tell business how much they should charge for their products. This is unprecedented and is indefensable.

If the the Board of Supes is not stopped its planned metamorphosis to Socialism should be complete in about 20 years. It forgets that it works for us. It is arrogant for the Board to say it is about changing the public's behavior. We, the public need to stand up to these simian dolts and tell them that they work for us and need to change their behavior and be responsive to our needs. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

Posted by Will of the people, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 27, 2013 at 6:04 pm

County voters recently passed a measure to raise the sales tax. The people want to may more. You can't blame the supervisors for doing the will of the people.

Posted by Gern, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 28, 2013 at 9:59 am

How is this nominal bag fee any different from a tax on gasoline, cigarettes, or any other commodity which brings environmental or social costs? I see absolutely no difference -- it's just new, is all. Not that I'm in favor of an ever-increasing number of such taxes, but bringing your own bags while shopping is a very minor inconvenience, and something more people appear to be doing every month if my observations in Menlo Park are any indication. Mountain out of a molehill, people, and the Socialism claim in a previous comment is just more of the same nonsense we saw in the run-up to last November.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2013 at 11:45 am

First of all, from what I have witnessed, I do not see plastic bags provided by supermarkets as creating an environmental problem. In our household, for years we have either reused these plastic bags to contain pet waste or deposited them in the supermarkets recycling bin. It is only on a very rare occasion that they have been placed unused in our weekly trashcan. With regard to the requirement for supermarkets to charge a fee, whether $.10 or $.25 for each paper bag, I totally agree with the reasoning and arguments presented by Alan Lambert in his LTE. This fee is punitive and coercive in its very nature and something that should be an embarrassment to those who created or enacted this legislation, whether it be the County staff that recommended it, the County Board of Supervisors and our City Council members that enacted it. This is government at its worst! My response to this legislation and until this legislation in modified, to the greatest extent possible, I intend to change my purchasing so that in the future any purchase of a supermarket product that will generate sales tax revenue will be done outside of my city and county.

Posted by The Problem with Liberals..., a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2013 at 12:40 pm

The bag fee is not a tax. If it were it would be legal that is if the County got the voters to pass it. But the county didn't go that route because it was persuaded by leftist environmental groups that it would not pass (The one time the left was correct). Instead the Board of Supervisors was coerced into interfering with business commerce. It truly overstepped its bounds. This should be challenged in Court. This is clearly illegal.

The Environmental Left has created hysteria over creeks getting polluted when it was just a minor problem. In the end it strong armed the Board of Supervisors to punish all the residents in unincorporated San Mateo County for the misdeeds of a few.

And the Menlo Park City Council, like a group of lemmings chose to adopt this idiotic ordnance. I expected this of Kirsten and Ray as they have higher ambitions within the Democratic Party and need support from the Left. So they chose to sacrifice the good of Menlo Park in furtherance of their political careers. What else is new. Rich Cline, normally a common sense guy, made a mistake and can be forgiven. However, Peter Ohtaki knew better but he betrayed the base that got him elected because is is loathes confrontation. Ohtaki is truly a shrinking violet. Only Cat Carleton try to introduce some common sense into the equation.

By the way, I just purchased 2000 plastic bags for $45.00. These multiple use plastic bags will be used the first time at the grocery store and will have secondary uses for lining bathroom waste cans and for pet product disposal. I don't know anyone who doesn't have secondary uses for the grocery plastic bags.

Posted by Gern, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm

@Mike, good as you profess to be in your efforts to reuse and recycle, millions or billions of these plastic bags end up in landfills every year, the same fate awaiting your pet waste-laden bags, presumably. Plastic bags are an environmental problem, plain and simple. And leaving the county to do your shopping is simply not a rational response to the bag fee, unless you enjoy paying far more for gas and additional gas taxes monthly than you ever would for the dozens of paper bags you might use (to say nothing of the added environmental cost your longer drive would entail). You'd also further penalize local merchants, which doesn't appear to be your intent.

If this issue is as important to you as your comment suggests, write a letter to the Almanac and the BoS, or find some other productive way to express your disapproval. For my part I think people need to be coerced into shopping with their own reusable bags -- it's good for the environment and good for merchants, who needn't bear the cost of the bags or pass part or all of that cost on to consumers.


Posted by Menlomaniac, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 28, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Robert's is going to see a significant uptick in its business. However merchants, if they choose, could give a 1% Customer Loyalty discount for shopping to everyone to counteract that idiocy put in play by the Board of Supes. Libs could not do anything about it because the discount would be given to everyone including those who bring their e coli laden reusable bags.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Does anyone recall the art installation in Palo Alto that featured huge bocce-style balls made of plastic bags? It was an outdoor installation right near the lawn bowling court on Embarcadero in Palo Alto. The artist and students collected THOUSANDS of *local* plastic bags for this project.

Web Link

It's pretty easy to buy eco-friendly plastic bags for pet waste & reusable shopping bags. Even here in EPA we can afford them.

Posted by Slippery Slope, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Using the same logic that was used to ban plastic bags, city counsils could ban virtually any product. Instead of paper newspapers, let's only allow electronic newspapers to reduce waste. Instead of paper cups at Starbucks, let's require everyone to bring a reuseable mug. The list is endless and each one would result in in incrimental environmental benefit. However, do we really want the city counsil telling us what (otherwise legal) products we should and shouldn't use? If the city counsils are going to reshape society using their view of what's right and wrong, they have a lot more work to do. Question is do we really want them making such decisions for us?

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 29, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I'm with Gern. This is a molehill being exaggerated into a mountain. I've been re-using Trader Joe's bags for years and it's really not a big deal. In fact, I much prefer them to the regular bags that Safeway provides, which lack the handles.
I know that some want to make this a left/right, liberal/conservative argument but being pro-environment should not be a partisan issue. I know that in many ways the environment that I'm leaving my kids and grandkids is in much worse shape than what I inherited - California's cleaner air being one notable exception. It makes me sad & ashamed that personal selfishness or ideological blinders would keep us from doing something to make the world a more livable place for all God's creatures - especially something like this that costs so little.

Posted by mpcyclist, a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Mar 29, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Paper bags, plastic bags, I don't really care because I can use either one responsibly. That said, paper bags are probably better for the environment. What bothers me is this stupid idea of paying $0.10/bag at checkout. Bags have always been provided by businesses so that customers can take their purchases home in a safe and convenient manner. It's always has been an accepted cost of doing business. Tacking on this ridiculous fee just creates more paperwork and slows things down at the register. A transaction can't be completed because the number of bags required can't be determined until everything's been bagged before it can be added to your final bill. The cost of this inconvenience in accounting alone is probably greater than the monies collected. Whoever thought of this idea should think about getting a real job instead of wasting everybody's time and effort. Paper bags? Fine. $0.10/bag? Go soak your head!

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 29, 2013 at 2:44 pm

MPcyclist -
I don't follow your argument. If you use recycled bags you owe nothing so there's nothing to add to the bill. If you forget to bring them then leave change to cover the cost of the bags you use. It doesn't have to be so complicated.

Posted by Jeanne Kunz, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

The paper-bag theory may be practical for people shopping for one or two persons who visit their store of choice every day or two. If you are shopping for a family once a week (which saves fuel costs, of course) it becomes a little ridiculous to anticipate "how many bags do I need to take with me on my trip and into the store?" Gads! Numerous bags fill up the cart and get in your way as you attempt to gather your items into the cart. And if you go to another store, you've likely already used up your bag inventory for the day.
In addition, the time and effort of the check-out personnel no doubt costs the merchants more than the income from the bags. This is a lose-lose situation.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 29, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Jeanne -
What you describe is not my experience at all.
I shop for my family of four once a week, doing as much shopping at Trader Joe's as possible, then filling in the gaps at Safeway.
I take two bundles of five bags (folded and bound with rubber bands) so I have bags for each store. Each bundle stays neatly out of the way while I shop, stuffed in the gap on the side of the fold-out basket/child seat in the shopping cart. When I go to check out, the bundle is the first thing I put on the conveyor belt so the clerk knows to use them for bagging, rather than the default plastic bags.
Because the paper bags hold so much more than plastic and because they remain upright when filled, filling a paper bag and then transferring it to the shopping cart goes much more quickly than using plastic. Ditto in transferring the bags of groceries from the cart to my car trunk.
Because I use Trader Joe's bags, which have handles, it's a breeze carrying them from the car into the kitchen. Even fully loaded with canned goods, I can always carry two bags at time. If they're light or partially loaded I can carry 3 or 4 at a time.
Once home, I empty the bags, refold them and bind them with rubber bands so they're all ready for the next week's shopping.
PS. I've learned to keep a couple spare bags in the trunk for the spur-of-the-moment shopping trip.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Mar 29, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Steve- re Calif environment - cheer up! We've made great strides in the past 40 years, especial here in the Bay Area. The bay is mcj cleaner than it used to be. Composting & recycling are common, home gardening is on the upswing, we have fewer wasteful lawns, more focus on native plant preservation & successful, well-organized clean ups for waterways. There's still much to do & Sili Valley has created a mess & San Joaquin Valley is a pollution horror show. But for the size of the state & it's population, we could be much worse off. Now if we can clear the oceans of those huge, terrifying messes of garbage, the planet will be better off. And you know, do more about climate change...but we're pretty far gone that way.

Posted by Harriet, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 30, 2013 at 8:04 am

Nanny state as usual.V

Posted by whatever, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2013 at 10:01 am

The whole issue of bags is supposedly based on being able to recycle. So why in the world are they trying to prevent the use of paper bags? The last time I checked paper bags recycle quite nicely into the environment - they decompose and are compostable! And almost all are made from recycled paper and wood products!

Me thinks we should be composting our crazy local politicians as it's highly questionable that they're worth the "two bits" to be able to reuse them.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Whatever -
Re-use comes before recycle.
If you just use a paper bag once, then that means trees and energy need to be used and water polluted to produce it's replacement. If you shop each week, that's 52X the amount of trees, energy and polluted water that needs to be generated. Not to mention the added cost to your grocery bill for this "convenience". And then there's the cost in energy to recycle all these bags that you dispose of.
Re-using the bags is really not any hassle, once you get in the habit of doing it.

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