San Jose Says 'Paper Nor Plastic'

When San Jose voted last week to address the use of disposable bags in grocery stores, it didn’t focus solely on plastic like many other bag bans. Starting in 2011, the city will not offer plastic or paper bags in its retail stores.

According to 2008 U.S. Census data, San Jose is the 10th largest city in the U.S., making it the largest city to have a bag ban at all. Paper bags that are made of at least 40 percent recycled content will still be offered, though, but consumers will still be charged a fee per bag.

Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

Mayor Chuck Reed said a regional approach was the only way to effectively deal with the plastic-bag trash that collects on San Jose's streets and in rural and urban waterways. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

San Jose is the largest city in Santa Clara County, and at the press conference announcing the law, other Santa Clara city mayors were in attendance to show their support. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said he’s looking for neighboring cities to pass the same law, and also promoted the use of reusable bags as an alternative.

Plastic bags receive more negative attention because they are a major source of marine debris. However, paper bags have a large environmental footprint since it takes four times the energy to make a paper bag than its plastic counterpart.

From a disposal standpoint, both paper and plastic bags are recyclable. However, Earth911’s Local Recycling Search includes almost twice as many locations to recycle plastic bags as paper. This is because many grocery stores already collect plastic bags for recycling, whereas paper bag recycling is generally reserved for curbside programs and recycling centers.

Opponents of the measure are concerned about its effect on local businesses. “This will have a major financial impact on my business and disrupt the shopping patterns of my customers,” said Gian Rossini, owner of the Grocery Outlet store, which only provides plastic or reusable bags to its customers. “We have a very strong (plastic bag) recycling program and really encourage our customers to bring them back to be recycled.”

San Jose’s bag ban will not affect restaurants or non-profits. Its passage is also dependent on an environmental impact study that will be conducted by the city.

Trey Granger

Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.
Trey Granger

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