Some Sacramento County shoppers came prepared Friday with their own reusable bags as they bought groceries for the long Fourth of July weekend. Others stocked up on bags for the first time – at a cost.
Friday marked the official start of a ban on free checkout plastic bags in grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores across unincorporated Sacramento County. Under the change, retailers must charge 10 cents for paper bags or reusable plastic bags approved by the county.
Amelia Bernhard, an El Dorado Hills resident shopping at a Raley’s supermarket in Fair Oaks, was unaware of the new ban. At the encouragement of one of the clerks helping her check out, she bought several reusable plastic bags to use in the future.
“Ten cents a bag isn’t that bad,” said Bernhard. “It just shocked me because I had no idea.”
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the ban on March 22, joining approximately 150 other communities in the state that have banned non-reusable plastic bags in certain stores. Sacramento County’s ban is similar to an ordinance that began Jan. 1 in the city of Sacramento.
On Friday, grocery stores in Fair Oaks and Carmichael had paper bags stacked up where customers check out. Paper bags were available for 10 cents each. Raley’s and Bel Air offered reusable plastic bags made from recycled materials at the same price.
Carmichael resident Victoria Whitney came to a Bel Air in Carmichael with her own bags. She works for a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency. She said she firsthand how plastic bags hurt the environment as a supervisor for the ocean water quality unit in California.
“Microplastics are a big problem for ocean critters and plastic bags cause a lot of degradation to our oceans,” Whitney said. “If you go to the fairs or other events, people hand out these reusable bags, so it’s not like they’re hard to get. I just leave them in my car for when I need them.”
Sacramento County spokeswoman Chris Andis said the transition away from free plastic bags went much more smoothly Friday than expected. She said the county was prepared to field lots of calls from confused citizens, but as of Friday afternoon, only three people had called about the change.
Andis said the county has been reaching out to stores since March. The county worked closely with the California Grocers Association and the Neighborhood Market Association, which reached out to its member stores to inform them of the impending changes. It also mailed notices to businesses that fit the ordinance’s criteria and set up a web page so owners with questions about their stores could have them answered. Andis said it was too early to determine the compliance rate for the unincorporated Sacramento County stores.
“People know that this is the way the industry is going, so most stores were very receptive to the changes,” Andis said.
Grocery stores did their part to educate customers as well. Raley’s spokeswoman Chelsea Minor said the company has already dealt with similar changes in other areas of Northern California and found it takes two to three weeks for customers to adjust and determine their new shopping patterns.
Since the ban for the city of Sacramento was put into place on Jan. 1, some Raley’s and Bel Air stores only a few blocks away from each other have had completely different plastic bag policies. With a statewide ban on free checkou plastic bags on the ballot in November, Minor said a uniform policy across California may actually help the company in the future.
“That’s confusing for customers, confusing for our team members because of training,” Minor said. “So as we move forward and if this is what Californians want, it will allow us to streamline our processes and better deliver to our customers with a consistent policy across all of our stores.”