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  • Randall Benton / The Sacramento Bee

    On Tuesday, Davis becomes the first city in the four-county region to curtail the use of disposable plastic bags by grocery stories, markets and retailers within city limits.

  • Sacramento

Plastic bag ban blows into region

Published: Saturday, Jun. 28, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 30, 2014 - 1:44 pm

Like an urban tumbleweed caught by a coastal breeze, ordinances banning thin plastic shopping bags have reached the Sacramento region.

On Tuesday, Davis becomes the first city in the four-county region to curtail the use of disposable plastic bags by grocery stores, markets and retailers within city limits. It joins 110 other California jurisdictions – mostly left-leaning coastal communities – that have enacted similar bans as a means to protect sea life and reduce waste.

While San Francisco led the way, enacting its ban in 2007, within the last year the inland cities of Chico, Truckee and South Lake Tahoe joined the bag-banning movement, along with the desert communities of Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Desert Hot Springs. On Wednesday, Nevada City passed its own ordinance.

“It’s very clear that this policy works and is the right choice for California,” said Nathan Weaver of Environment California. He said he’s confident that this is the year a statewide ban will become law. The bill doing that, SB 270, awaits legislative action. The city of Sacramento has placed its ordinance on hold pending state action, a city official said.

But while environmentalists like Weaver and local leaders like Davis’ outgoing mayor, Joe Krovoza, sing the merits of removing “single use” bags from the shopping equation, the American bag industry vows to keep up the fight, arguing that the alternative to thin plastic bags are actually worse for the planet.

“What has been clear from the start, these ordinances are not being driven by facts,” said Jon Berrier on behalf of the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

He said grocery bags make up less than 1 percent of landfill waste.

“Passing these ordinances to ban a recyclable product will not have a positive impact on the environment,” he said.

The Davis ban makes it illegal to provide “single-use” carryout bags and requires stores to charge at least 10 cents per paper bag. While the ban does carve out some exceptions, public sentiment pushed city leaders to enact a more sweeping ban than elected officials originally sought. As originally drafted, small merchants would have been exempt from the ban. The aim in Davis is to reduce waste going to city landfills.

“It was actually strengthened as it moved through the process,” Krovoza said.

In many ways, it makes perfect sense that Davis would be the first community in the Sacramento region to enact a plastic bag ban. The city collects food scraps from restaurants for composting, doesn’t allow the sale of plastic bottles at public events and has adopted a goal of being carbon-neutral by 2050.

“Davis has taken waste reduction very seriously,” Krovoza said. “We are pushing the envelope.”

There won’t be much adjustment needed by the customers of the Davis Food Co-op. Over a 10-minute period on a recent afternoon, of the 21 customers making it past the checkout stand, all but three brought their own bag or didn’t use a bag.

“I’m surprised it took so long,” said an approving Isaac Liao, who is days from moving out of Davis.

“I like it. I thinks its good,” offered his companion Esther Kim, who’ll also soon be moving away.

Nevada City Mayor Sally Harris said leaders there had almost no resistance from residents to the ban. She dismissed the plastic bag association’s concerns about the environmental effects of people using paper bags or thicker plastic bags.

“The idea here is to get people to use reusable bags,” said Harris. She said she made the switch to cloth bags a year ago.

The issue is one that still divides. While some celebrate Davis “being ahead of the curve,” others in a Facebook thread on the subject questioned how much good the ban will do.

“A ban on plastic shopping bags will do little to eliminate the plastic problem. It will lead to the use of more trees and petrochemicals to produce more paper bags. It will add another tax to shoppers who use those paper bags,” said Sacramento resident Steven Bourasa. He said the solution to single-use plastic bags is to recycle them.

Barrier, of the bag association, said the grocery industry profits from these ordinances while bag manufacturers are driven out of business. Not only do grocers get to stop buying plastic bags, but they also make money on the sale of paper bags, said Barrier, who is based in Washington, D.C. Shoppers can avoid paying by bringing their own bags.

He said the money collected from paper bag sales should help protect the environment, not boost grocers’ profits.

One Davis market is giving that money back to the community through a fund benefiting city nonprofits.

“It’s not going back into our pocket,” said Cyn Leo, team leader of Whole Foods Market in Davis. “We didn’t make the ... ordinance. The least we can do is put it back in the community.”

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher

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