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Sacramento County should join ban on plastic bags

A new ordinance that took effect Jan. 1 in Sacramento eliminates single-use bags from grocery stores. Shoppers can purchase paper bags or recycled plastic bags or bring their own.
A new ordinance that took effect Jan. 1 in Sacramento eliminates single-use bags from grocery stores. Shoppers can purchase paper bags or recycled plastic bags or bring their own. scaiola@sacbee.com

On Jan. 1, the city of Sacramento joined 147 other California cities and counties in banning throwaway plastic bags given out at checkout by grocery stores, large pharmacies and convenience stores.

So why hasn’t Sacramento County imposed a similar ban?

The Board of Supervisors plans a March 8 workshop on the issue, leading to a vote as soon as March 22. It’s about time.

In the rest of the county outside Sacramento, an average of 25.5 million plastic bags are handed out every month. Only 5 percent of those bags are recycled. The bags blow out of trash cans, garbage trucks and even garbage dumps. They litter our streets, parks, school grounds, rivers and streams. Local governments must hire crews to pull plastic out of storm drains.

Every time I walk on the American River Parkway or kayak on Lake Natoma, I see plastic bags in the water. Even rivers outside urban areas, including the Cosumnes, are filled with plastic waste.

Bits of plastic infiltrate the food chain and are ingested by fish, turtles, otters and beavers. Birds mistake plastic pieces for food, or swallow plastic while feeding on dead fish. Sharp edges can fatally puncture internal organs. If a bird’s gut fills with plastic, it will starve to death.

Much of the county’s plastic eventually washes out through the Delta into San Francisco Bay and then to coastal waters. A recent study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their guts.

In the city, an estimated 14 million plastic bags a month were being handed out. With the city’s ban in place for more than a month, the transition to other bags has been smooth. People have been bringing their own reusable bags, or buying recyclable bags. The same easy transition occurred when Davis, Chico, Truckee, Nevada City and South Lake Tahoe banned plastic bags.

In 2014, Save the American River Association was part of the coalition that successfully passed statewide legislation banning single-use plastic bags despite fierce opposition from lobbyists hired by bag makers in Texas, South Carolina and New Jersey.

The manufacturers then spent $3 million to gather enough signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters to overturn the law. We can expect millions more to be spent on ads promoting the referendum. But even if the referendum is approved, the local bans will stay in place.

The plastic bag ban is working in Sacramento and communities across the state. County supervisors have an opportunity to join the party and protect our neighborhoods and parks, including the American River Parkway.

Stephen Green is president of Save the American River Association. He can be contacted at gsg444@sbcglobal.net.

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