Editorial: Time to rid cities, county of plastic bags | May 9, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - May 9, 2012

Editorial: Time to rid cities, county of plastic bags

It is encouraging to see the current effort to phase out the ubiquitous white plastic bags that are distributed by the millions at checkout counters in local stores. The bags could soon be replaced by the much more environmentally sensible reusable shopping bags, if an effort by San Mateo County is successful.

Already Menlo Park, Portola Valley and Woodside are among the 18 cities in the county that have signed on to what is expected to be a county ordinance that aims to change the habits of shoppers, who will either have to pay for paper bags or bring their own reusable bags.

It is expected that after supervisors adopt an ordinance covering unincorporated areas of the county, probably in October, cities would pass identical measures to make the free bags illegal throughout the county. An environmental impact report is being considered that, when complete, can be adopted by all the participating cities.

Earlier efforts by individual cities in other parts of the state to ban the bags have faced legal challenges from well-financed bag manufacturers. Dean Peterson, director of environmental health services for the county, told the Woodside Town Council in March that if all cities adopt the EIR being prepared by the county, it will help withstand a legal attack.

Many public meetings have been held around the county to help residents understand the proposed ordinance. The measure will focus on the common single-use bag commonly found at checkout counters in many grocery stores.

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

If adopted by all cities and the county, a ban on the bags would remove a major pollutant from a wide range of locations throughout the county, including beaches, landfills, along highways, waterways and the ocean. It is an easy way to make our communities much greener and more welcoming to visitors. Who could be in favor of allowing this mess to continue?

The county acted last July to control the use of polystyrene-based disposable food service ware commonly known as "Styrofoam" and many cities are expected to follow suit. When soiled with food, the plates, cups, bowls, trays and clamshell containers made from Styrofoam are not reusable or biodegradable. State and federal agencies say the substance does not break down, meaning it will persist in the environment and go on to pollute the environment for years to come.

Now it is time to move further, and ban single-use plastic bags, another man-made pollutant that is a common sight in many cities and throughout rural areas of the county. Use of these bags is a bad habit that must and can be broken.

Most reusable bags can be purchased for less than $10 and will last for many years. The cost amounts to a tiny portion of annual grocery expenditures and is a fair price to pay for clearing the environment of yet another single-use product that we can easily do without.


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