Supervisors should decide on plastic bag ban for county

Volunteer John Abbe picks up plastic bags and other garbage along the American River Parkway last June.
Volunteer John Abbe picks up plastic bags and other garbage along the American River Parkway last June. Sacramento Bee file

I’ve heard overwhelmingly from my constituents that a ban on single-use plastic bags is long overdue for unincorporated areas of Sacramento County. I agree, and that’s why I’ve asked fellow members of the Board of Supervisors to vote up or down Tuesday on a reusable bag ordinance.

Why do I and many others care so much about this issue?

I visit the American River Parkway often, mostly as a fly fisherman. Regardless of the stretch of river I’m fishing, more and more I notice single-use plastic bags polluting the shores and water of our regional jewel.

In the unincorporated area near where I live in Natomas, I see plastic bags wind-blown against pasture fences and tangled in the cottonwoods that line the Sacramento River. In the unincorporated South Oak Park/Fruitridge Pocket neighborhood that I represent, I see plastic bags in gutters, front yards, parking lots, school playgrounds and in street tree canopies. In unincorporated Sacramento County, an estimated 500,000 single-use plastic bags are put into circulation each day.

That is why supervisors should consider a reusable bag policy for unincorporated areas that is modeled after the state law the out-of-state plastic bag industry is trying to overturn in a November referendum.

According to California’s Department of Recycling, less than 5 percent of single-use plastic bags are recycled. That means nearly all the plastic bags you see at grocery stores will likely end up where no one wants them: in landfills, roads, trees, waterways and sensitive natural habitats.

It is especially troubling to know that as a taxpayer, it costs the county at least $200,000 a year to collect derelict plastic bags. There is also the cost of having to stop and restart sorting machinery to clear bags, and for our local reclamation and flood control agencies to unclog drainage and pump systems.

This is completely unacceptable and unnecessary.

This is an environmental policy that should be addressed by the elected body most knowledgeable about Sacramento County’s unique characteristics, such as the coveted 26-mile urban parkway. Ultimately, it is important for supervisors to express our local values regardless of whether Senate Bill 270 is upheld or repealed.

By basing a policy for unincorporated areas on state law, we would provide a valuable service to small businesses and consumers. Should the November referendum fail, state law will require businesses in unincorporated areas to comply immediately. If supervisors adopt an ordinance this spring, that means we could conduct a multi-month education and outreach campaign to prepare businesses and consumers for reusable bags by July 1.

I understand that for some, a ban on single-use plastic bags constitutes a perceived inconvenience. These were some of the same concerns expressed when residential trash recycling and low-flow toilets were introduced, or when smoking was prohibited on planes. We all adjusted and we’re all better for it. I’m convinced the same will hold true with a reusable bag policy for Sacramento County.

Phil Serna represents District 1 on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. He can be contacted at