It’s time to move on a countywide plastic bag ban

Sacramento County supervisors will decide this month whether to follow dozens of other communities and ban single-use plastic bags.
Sacramento County supervisors will decide this month whether to follow dozens of other communities and ban single-use plastic bags. Associated Press file

File this one under better late than never.

Sacramento County supervisors on Tuesday finally got around to having a serious discussion about banning single-use, plastic grocery bags, and instead requiring consumers to pay 10 cents for a paper bag or bring their own. Twenty people got up to speak – and only one objected to a ban.

Supervisor Patrick Kennedy summed it up best when he said: “I can’t believe it is the year 2016 and we’re still having this discussion. There are so many societal goods to come out of this.”

It’s true. Single-use plastic bags can’t be recycled. They’re thin and flimsy. The bags blow around streets, getting caught in fences and under porches.

They clog waterways and eventually wash out into the Pacific Ocean where they break down into bits of plastic that fish mistake for food. The bags get recovered in droves from the underbrush where homeless people camp along the American River Parkway.

In Sacramento County alone, officials estimated a ban could reduce waste removal costs by about $150,000 a year. Multiply that statewide.

For those reasons, the Legislature passed a bill back in 2014 that would ban single-use bags statewide. It was supposed to go into effect this year, first in grocery stores and, later, at convenience stores.

But the plastic bag manufacturing industry descended on California and collected enough signatures to put a measure on the November ballot that, if approved, would negate the ban approved by state leaders.

That has set off a string of county-by-county and city-by-city approvals of locally drawn-up plastic bag bans that would survive even if the ballot measure is successful. So far, jurisdictions covering some 40 percent of California have passed their own bans or, by another measure, nearly 150 communities have such laws on the books, among them, the city of Sacramento, where a ban went into effect on Jan 1.

That change, many noted at Tuesday’s meeting, has caused a lot of confusion in neighborhoods where the city juts out into the county. Some retailers are denying customers bags and charging for them when the law doesn’t yet require it.

Clarity is needed. But more than that, the environment needs to be protected and tax dollars need to be put to better use than disposing of plastic bags.

The supervisors have scheduled a vote for March 22. If the ban is approved, it would likely go into effect in July. There’s no reason to wait any longer.