City spreading word on new bag ban

City spreading word on new bag ban

Michele Ellson
I am a plastic bag.

City leaders are spreading the word about a new single-use plastic bag ban that went into effect this month. Enforcement of the county-enacted ban, which affects 65 stores locally and 1,900 countywide, starts in 2013.

By January 1, local grocery and convenience stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and other stores selling packaged food will no longer be allowed to offer free, single-use plastic bags to customers. But other businesses – including restaurants, clothing shops and thrift stores – won’t be affected by the ban, though they may be added at a future date.

The ban was implemented to reduce plastic bag litter, particularly in landfills and waterways, said Maria DiMeglio, who manages the city’s recycling programs.

“They’re trying to reduce the amount of these bags that end up in landfills,” DiMeglio said during a community meeting on the ban Tuesday night.

Stores affected by the ban will be allowed to sell customers recycled paper or reusable bags for 10 cents apiece, though the price of those bags could rise to 25 cents each by 2015 if the cost to purchase bags doesn’t reduce usage. County officials said when the ban was passed that a similar bag charge in Washington, D.C. reduced plastic and paper bag distribution by 80 percent and reduced the number of plastic bags found in the Anacostia River by 66 percent.

Business owners who don’t comply with the Alameda County Waste Management Authority ban face fines of up to $1,000 per violation, and while the county will enforce the ban, the city will have final say over whether citations are issued.

City leaders had considered opting out of the ban in order to gain time to reach out to businesses affected by it, but they later reversed that decision when they determined adequate outreach could be done while the ban is put into effect. Every city in Alameda County has decided to put the ban in place.

Stopwaste.org, which includes the authority and the county’s recycling board, had backed a state bill sponsored by Heal the Bay in 2010 that called for a similar ban statewide, but the bill died in the state Senate.

In addition to the bag ban, the authority approved a mandatory recycling ordinance for businesses and residential buildings with five units or more that goes into effect on July 1.

Heal the Bay estimated in 2010 that Californians used 19 billion plastic bags a year, creating over 147,000 tons of waste that California and its municipalities spent $325 million cleaning up. In 2008, plastic bags made up 1.2 percent of the waste generated in Alameda.

Public Works staffers are holding a second community meeting on the new ban at 7 p.m. Thursday in City Hall.