From Santa Cruz County, Calif., to the state of Michigan, lawmakers across the country continue to debate the issue of plastic bag pollution, with many banning plastic single-use shopping bags or considering such legislation.
Last week, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that prohibits grocery stores, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores in the county’s unincorporated areas from distributing plastic shopping bags, reports the San Jose Mercury News.
To encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the store, they will be charged 10 cents per paper bag once the law goes into effect next year. After one year, the paper bag fee will increase to 25 cents. The 500 retailers affected by the ordinance will keep all revenue generated by the fee.
Santa Cruz joins three other counties in California – Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Marin – in passing plastic bag bans that apply to retailers in their unincorporated areas. Marin’s ordinance has not yet taken effect, as the measure is being contested in court by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which charges that the local law is preempted by state legislation requiring grocery stores and other major retailers to take back plastic bags for recycling, according to advocacy group Californians Against Waste.
The Coalition also sued the Southern California city of Manhattan Beach for banning plastic bags without undertaking a review of the law’s environmental impacts, but the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city’s ordinance in July.
Just south of San Francisco, the first city to enact a plastic bag ban, San Mateo County is exploring legislation prohibiting plastic bags in its unincorporated areas, and its Board of Supervisors will hold a meeting later this month to gather public comments on the proposed measure, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
While many cities in California are outlawing plastic bags and placing a fee on paper bags to motivate shoppers to use reusable shopping bags, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo County, located on California’s central coast, are deliberating slightly different options to reduce shopping bags in their jurisdictions.
According to the San Luis Obispo Tribune, San Luis Obispo County is considering restricting the types of paper and plastic bags that retailers can distribute in its unincorporated areas and within its seven cities. Under the proposed ordinance, retailers would only be permitted to hand out thicker paper and plastic bags for a fee of 5 cents each. The rationale behind allowing thicker bags is that they are more likely to be reused, the paper says.
Down in LA, a city councilmember has asked the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would ban both plastic and paper single-use shopping bags in the second largest city in the U.S.
California now has a total of 14 jurisdictions with plastic bag bans: 10 cities, including Calabasas, Fairfax, Long Beach, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Oakland, Palo Alto, San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Monica, and four counties including Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles and Marin.
Outside of California
But California isn’t the only hotbed of activity when it comes to reducing single-use shopping bags.
Two Democratic representatives in Michigan have introduced legislation to charge grocery stores and retailers 1 cent for every plastic bag they distribute to customers. Stores would have to pass the fee on to customers, print it on receipts as a separate item and submit the revenue to the state quarterly.
Plastic bags that are specifically designed for more than 1,000 uses would be exempt from the 1-cent fee.
The bill has been referred to a committee on regulatory reform.
In Colorado, the Aspen City Council has been debating enacting a 20-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, coordinating their efforts with the neighboring towns of Basalt and Cardonale to create regional consistency in their laws. But now the majority of Aspen’s councilmembers say they want to change course and pass an outright ban of plastic bags, The Aspen Times reports.
Over in Hailey, Idaho, 95 miles east of Boise, the town’s 6,200 residents will be voting on a ballot measure to ban plastic bags this November, according to the Idaho Mountain Express. A group of high school students collected enough signatures to place the proposed legislation on the ballot.
Proponents of plastic bag bans say that simply encouraging shoppers to bring their own shopping bags to stores hasn’t been effective in reducing single-use shopping bags. They also point to the material’s low recycling rates, impact on marine life and litter clean-up costs.
Makers of plastic bags and industry organizations such as the American Chemistry Council, however, criticize plastic bag bans for limiting consumer choice and harming the growth of plastic bag recycling programs. They also say that manufacturing and transporting plastic bags is more environmentally friendly than producing paper bags.