Environment

No more free grocery bags in Sacramento

Free shopping bags at Sacramento grocery stores officially became a thing of the past on New Year’s Day, as retailers began implementing a new city ordinance that forbids free take-out plastic bags at supermarkets, convenience stores and larger pharmacies.

The ban, like dozens of others across the state, is meant to stem the tide of flimsy plastic bags flowing into landfills, streets and waterways. Starting Friday, Sacramento shoppers can bring their own bags or containers, including backpacks, boxes and suitcases. They can also buy paper bags or reusable plastic bags for a dime each.

The changes took some shoppers by surprise Friday, with a few leaving the checkout stand ruffled.

Patty Welch of Granite Bay and her husband refused to pay 10 cents for a bag at a Raley’s supermarket in North Natomas and instead carried their groceries – a vegetable-and-dip platter, ice cream and bakery boxes – to their car in their arms.

“I’m not a happy camper about it,” Welch said. “I probably won’t be doing much shopping in Sacramento anymore.”

For the most part, however, people shrugged off the ban and either ponied up change or brought their own bags.

Bob Maurer, 65, of Natomas, came to the store bagless and had to purchase several recycled plastic bags at the checkout stand.

“A lot of store trips are spontaneous,” Maurer said. “It means you have to keep a bag in your car all the time. But 10 cents isn’t that much. If it’s good for the environment, it’s a small price to pay.”

The Sacramento City Council unanimously approved the ban after a similar state law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, was put on hold pending the outcome of a referendum on this November’s ballot that seeks to overturn it.

In passing its own rules, Sacramento joined 145 cities and counties in California that forbid grocery stores and other retailers from offering free plastic bags at checkout stands. More than a third of Californians live in areas where the bags are outlawed, including in Davis, Chico, Truckee, Nevada City and South Lake Tahoe.

Like their counterparts across the state, Sacramento officials say the bags clog landfills and recycling machinery, litter roadways and snag on fences and trees. Many find their way to rivers and streams and, because the bags never degrade, become a permanent source of pollution.

According to a report compiled by the Sacramento city staff, retailers handed out nearly 14 million plastic bags in the city every month.

Opponents of the bag bans, led by the plastic bag industry, contend the laws won’t have any real environmental benefit and will enrich retailers at the cost of shoppers. The manufacturers put up $3 million to qualify the anti-bag ban referendum for the ballot.

If voters overturn the state law, Sacramento’s ban will remain in effect. But if the referendum fails, the state law will take precedence, with minor differences from Sacramento’s ordinance including allowing grocers to offer free biodegradable bags at checkout.

Signs warning shoppers about the bag ban have been posted at Raley’s markets for weeks, but not everyone got the word, said team leader Damon Moreno at the Raley’s on Natomas Boulevard.

“It’s probably about 50-50 in terms of people knowing about it, but the ones who were unprepared were really bitter,” Moreno said. “There’s a lot of educating people that needs to happen.”

He said that shoppers can easily avoid additional charges and that clerks and baggers will fill just about any container with groceries.

“You can bring whatever you want – boxes, crates – we’ll bag it for you,” the store manager said. “Whatever saves you the 10 cents.”

Hudson Sangree: 916-321-1191, @hudson_sangree

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