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Frequently Asked Questions

About the City of Napa Single-Use Bag Reduction Ordinance 

Background
Residents, visitors and businesses in the City of Napa discard approximately 27 million plastic bags each year, according to CalRecycle. A small percentage are recycled, but the majority end up in landfills, litter the landscape, pollute our river and creeks, harm or kill wildlife, and jam recycling equipment. Educating our community about the problems plastic bags create is important, but education alone is not enough. In 2012, Napa Valley CanDo made an effort to limit use of these one-time bags by giving away reusable bags and encouraging their use, however a survey after their Better Bag Month bag giveaway and education program showed only a small increase in reusable bag use. On the other hand, according to Californians Against Waste, cities and counties that have instituted a single-use plastic bag ban (which includes a charge for paper bags) have seen single-use plastic bag use decrease by 95%, paper bag use decrease by 30%, and plastic litter in waterways decrease by 60%.

Across the country, cities and counties are instituting plastic bag bans in an effort to tackle the problem effectively, prevent pollution, and save money. This ordinance will reduce litter and waste as well as contamination in recycling and composting programs—in turn reducing costs to taxpayers in the City of Napa. In addition, the law will improve water quality in our rivers and streams, the bay and the ocean by reducing plastic bag pollution.

Below are some frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers about single-use plastic bags and why reducing or eliminating their use is beneficial to our community.

What is the purpose of Napa’s Single-Use Bag Reduction Ordinance?
What is the City of Napa’s definition of a single-use plastic bag?
What bags are affected?
Are there any exceptions to this ban?
Isn't there a law that requires alcohol be placed in a carryout bag? 

If approved, when does the ordinance take effect?
Who is affected by the ordinance?
What other communities regulate plastic bags?
What damage do plastic bags cause?

What about recycling; isn’t that a better solution?
Do plastic bags biodegrade?
W
hy not switch to paper bags?
Wouldn’t compostable bags solve the problem?

What is the City of Napa’s definition of a recycled paper bag?
What is the City of Napa’s definition of a reusable bag?
Why are reusable bags better for the environment?
How will I carry my groceries home? I need those free bags.

What is the benefit to me? What is the benefit to the community?
Where can I get reusable bags?
Are reusable bags safe? Won’t they harbor germs?

What if I forget my reusable bags?
What if I can’t afford to purchase a reusable bag?
Why is there a 10-cent fee on recycled paper carryout bags? Is it a tax?
What types of retail establishments are required to charge 10 cents for each recycled paper bag? 

Why not offer plastic bags, but charge for them instead?
How can I avoid the charge?
I use plastic bags to pick up my pet’s waste. What will I use instead?
Do bag bans really work?

What about the proposed statewide plastic bag law?
Is an ordinance the same as a law?
Why isn't this going on the ballot for a vote?
How will the Reusable Bag Ordinance be enforced?
What happens to businesses that do not comply?
What is being done to educate the public?
Where can I get more information?

 

What is the purpose of Napa’s Single-Use Bag Reduction Ordinance?
The intent of the Single-use Bag Reduction Ordinance is to significantly reduce the environmental and community impacts related to single-use plastic and paper carryout bags and promote a major shift toward the use of reusable bags.

What does the ordinance cover?
Under this ordinance, use of single-use plastic bags (although there are some exceptions outlined in this FAQ) will no longer be permitted at retail stores. Paper bags will be allowed, but retailers will be required to charge customers not less than 10 cents per bag to encourage customers to use reusable bags. The 10 cents is not taxable, and retailers retain the revenue in order to offset the costs of providing paper bags.

What is the City of Napa’s definition of a single-use plastic bag?
“Single-use, plastic carryout bag” means any bag less than 2.25 mil thick and made predominately of plastic derived from petroleum or bio-based sources, such as corn or other plant source, and includes compostable, non-compostable, and biodegradable plastic bags. These are the typical and familiar plastic bags with handles found at most stores.

Bags used within stores, such as bags for produce, bulk foods, meat and seafood, flowers and other similar uses where health, safety and moisture may be a concern will not be affected. In addition, home delivery bags for newspapers, dry cleaning and plastic bags sold in packages (for garbage or pet waste, for example) would be exempt. Plastic bags for take-out orders from restaurants are permitted, although the use of recyclable paper bags is encouraged.

What bags are affected?
All single-use plastic bags provided at the point of checkout for retail sales are covered by the ordinance and as noted in the definition above.

Are there any exceptions to this ban?
Yes. The following uses are exempt from the requirements of the Single-use Bag Reduction Ordinance:

Isn’t there a law that requires me to put alcoholic beverages into a carryout bag?
Since 2011, there has been no California law that mandates a retailer to provide a bag for purchased alcoholic beverages. There is also no law requiring retailers in unincorporated areas of the County to provide a bag for purchased alcoholic beverages, although nearby incorporated cities may have such a requirement. If a paper bag with handles is provided, the 10-cent fee must be applied.

When does the ordinance take effect?
The ordinance was passed by the City Council in the summer of 2014; however, in order to allow sufficient time for businesses to use up their existing inventory of bags and to adjust to the requirements of the ordinance, implementation will be phased in over six months, going into full effect on January 1, 2015.

Who is affected by the ordinance?
All retail establishments or all sizes located in the City of Napa, including supermarkets and grocery stores, department stores, clothing stores, convenience stores, wineries and tasting rooms, drug stores and pharmacies that provide retail carryout bags will be required to follow this law.

What other communities regulate plastic bags?

In addition to the City of Napa’s ordinance, St. Helena and Calistoga have also passed similar ordinances, as have more than 100 other California cities and counties. St. Helena’s ordinance includes an exception for high-quality branded bags offered at many downtown boutiques.

Nearby, our neighbors in Marin County have regulations for all supermarkets, drug stores, and convenience stores, and Sonoma County and several cities within Sonoma County recently passed an ordinance affecting all retail establishments. Many other communities throughout the Bay Area have already adopted ordinances similar to ours; in fact, there are currently more than 75 ordinances covering more than 100 cities and counties in California, including many throughout the surrounding area.

 

Bag bans in California:
Alameda County, Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Newark, Oakland, Piedmont, Pleasanton, San Leandro, Union City, Arcata, Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Calabasas, Campbell , Capitola, Carmel-by-the-Sea, Carpinteria, Chico, Colma, Culver City, Cupertino, Daly City, Dana Point, Davis, Desert Hot Springs, East Palo Alto, El Cerrito, Fairfax, Fort Bragg, Foster City, Glendale, Half Moon Bay, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, Los Altos, Los Gatos, City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Marin County, Mendocino County, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Mill Valley, Monterey, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Novato, Ojai, Pacifica, Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Palo Alto, Pasadena, Portola Valley, Pittsburg, Redwood City, Richmond, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Francisco, San Jose, San Mateo, San Mateo County, San Luis Obispo County, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Grover Beach, Morro Bay, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, San Pablo, San Rafael, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County, Santa Monica, Sausalito, Solana Beach, Sonoma County, Sonoma, Cloverdale, Cotati, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Sebastopol, Windsor, South Lake Tahoe, South Pasadena, South San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Truckee, Ukiah, Walnut Creek, Watsonville, West Hollywood

Bag bans in the U.S.:
Alaska, Arizona, California, Chicago, Colorado, Connecticut , District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington

Bag bans in other countries:
Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, England, Eritrea, France, Haiti, India, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Macedonia, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mexico, New South Wales, Pakistan, Phillippines, Rwanda, Somaliland, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, Tasmania, Tanzania, Uganda, Ulanbaatar, United Arab Emirates, Wales


What damage do plastic bags cause?
Single-use plastic bags are used in extremely high volumes (more than 27 million per year in the City of Napa) and only a small fraction of them are ever recycled. They are produced from nonrenewable resources and are designed to be disposable (rather than reusable). While some single-use plastic bags are reused, many of them are simply used once and then discarded. Once discarded, single-use plastic bags often remain in the environment for decades or longer. These bags can end up in landfills or be swept away by the wind and get caught in trees, fences, and storm drains. If they are disposed of at all—many end up in the wrong waste bin and jam recycling equipment resulting in work stoppages and loss of efficiency at the waste collection facility.

Eventually, plastic bags can find their way to the ocean, where they can do significant damage to wildlife. More and more marine animals are found with plastic bag particles in their digestive systems. Reuseit.com reports that hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food. Plastics can be found all along the food chain: microscopic plastic particles have been found in the tissue of fish.

What about recycling; isn’t that a better solution?
According to CalRecycle no more than 3 percent of plastic bags are recycled, in spite of the fact that there are bins at all major grocery stores, large retailers and pharmacies. The majority of bags are never recycled or are disposed of improperly; most end up in landfills or waterways. Because we are unable to recycle the bags locally, our only option is to dispose of them into the gray trash containers (which go to the landfill); however many end up in the blue recycling bins, ultimately jamming recycling equipment, resulting in costly work stoppages.

The approximately 1,000 pounds of plastic bags that Napa Recycling and Waste Services (NRWS) collects each day are baled and have little value. This low-grade film plastic has no domestic market and is shipped to Asia, at a cost that is at much more than their value, according to NRWS. There is another potential cost beyond transporting them to another country as well: processing in Asia may be subject to fewer environmental controls, adding further strain on the environment.

Do plastic bags biodegrade?
They don’t. They can last hundreds of years in landfills, unless exposed to the sun, which photo-degrades them into smaller and smaller particles. But even then, the plastic doesn’t disappear—scientists are now finding microscopic plastic particles in the world’s oceans and in the tissue of fish.

Why not switch to paper bags?
Although they are recyclable and biodegradable and do not create the same problems associated with litter and marine life, paper bags also have their own environmental impact. Manufacturing them requires trees as well as large amounts of water. It has been estimated that 14 million trees are cut down every year to make paper bags for shoppers in the U.S. It also takes a significant amount of energy to produce, distribute, and dispose of paper bags.

Wouldn’t compostable bags solve the problem?
Being compostable and being composted are two different things. Compostable bags (such as those made from cornstarch) only break down in an active composting process. They do not decompose in the natural environment because of the lack of heat, or in landfills because of the lack of oxygen. When used to hold wet food waste that goes into an organics composting program, they can be beneficial, but otherwise they are no better than traditional plastic.

What is the City of Napa’s definition of a recycled paper bag?
"Recycled paper bag” means a paper carryout bag provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale that contains no old-growth fiber and a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled material and is 100% recyclable. The word “recyclable” must be printed in some manner on the outside of the bag, along with the name and location of the manufacturer and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content.

What is the City of Napa’s definition of a reusable bag?
“Reusable bag” means either a bag made of cloth or other machine-washable fabric that has handles, or a durable plastic bag with handles that is at least 2.25 mil thick and is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse.

Why are reusable bags better for the environment?
Reusable bags can be used many times, and thus create less landfill waste and fewer environmental impacts than other types of bags. Naturally, as with any product there are still some environmental impacts associated with their production and distribution, but reusable bags made from recycled polyethylene have a lower footprint than single-use plastic after as few as eight uses. They use 50% less energy, have 40% less impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and solid waste resources, and use 30% less water.

How will I carry my groceries home? I need those free bags.
Single-use plastic grocery bags aren’t free. Supermarkets recoup the estimated 2 to 5 cents they pay per plastic bag by increasing the price of groceries, meaning even people who bring their own bags to the store are supplementing the cost of plastic bags. A small investment in reusable bags will pay for itself within a few uses, and some markets give rebates to customers who bring their own bags to the store. Additionally, there is nothing in the ordinance that prohibits customers from bringing their own bags of any type to take home their groceries or other purchases.

What is the benefit to me? What is the benefit to the community?
The Single-use Bag Reduction Ordinance will result in less litter, which is important, not just for environmental reasons, but also because our community receives a significant economic return as a result of its preservation of natural resources and beautiful surroundings. In addition, reducing plastic bags provide less risk of increased trash bills due to equipment breakdowns, less plastic contamination in the food supply, less threat and damage to local wildlife and waterways, and serves as a good lesson for all of us on conserving resources.

Where can I get reusable bags?
Reusable bags are widely available for purchase at select retail stores and markets and many organizations and businesses offer such bags through promotions and events for free. Don’t overlook the bags you already have in your home or office—tote bags made of canvas or nylon, for example.

Are reusable bags safe? Won’t they harbor germs?
There are no credible studies making a connection between reusable bags and foodborne illness. In fact, a 2010 study by Californians Against Waste shows that reusable bags have no more bacteria than other items you bring home from the store. Using common sense, washing your hands, and washing bags when they get dirty, virtually eliminates any risk of illness.

What if I forget my reusable bags?
Getting used to new habits takes a little time and practice. If you forget your bag, most stores will offer reusable paper bags for a minimal charge, generally 10 cents. To avoid needing to buy bags, keep reusable bags in the car and tuck a small, collapsible bag into your purse or glove box or attach one to your keychain for quick shopping trips. Pretty soon, bringing your own reusable bags into stores will become second nature—just like –fastening your seatbelt.

What if I can’t afford to purchase a reusable bag?
Stores are required to provide customers participating in the California Special Supplemental Food program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and customers participating in the Supplemental Food (SNAP) program with a reusable bag or recycled paper bag at no cost at the point of sale.

Why is there a 10-cent fee on recycled paper carryout bags? Is it a tax?
The 10-cent fee on recycled paper carryout bags is intended to encourage customers to bring reusable bags and reduce their dependence on single-use bags of all types, both paper and plastic. A small fee for paper bags—coupled with a ban on plastic bags—is the most effective and legally protected way to institute an ordinance. Most all other cities and counties that have passed bans have included the paper bag fee component. The cost pass-through reimburses retailers for the costs of providing recycled paper carryout bags to their customers. All of the revenue from the cost pass-through remains with the store; it is not a tax and none of it goes to the city.

What types of retail establishments are required to charge 10 cents for each recycled paper bag?
All retail businesses included in the ordinance are prohibited from distributing free single-use paper and plastic carryout bags. If businesses decide to make recycled paper carryout bags available for their customers, they are required to sell them for not less than 10 cents per bag. The charge must be listed as a single line item on the customer’s receipt and is not taxable to the consumer according to the State Board of Equalization.

Why not offer plastic bags, but charge for them instead?
The goal of this ordinance is to reduce overall plastic bag use. As illustrated in other communities who have passed similar ordinances, bans are better than fees at helping us reach this goal. California law (AB2449) prohibited charging for plastic bags, however it didn’t prohibit charging for paper bags. As a result, retailers are able to recover their cost for providing paper bags, and this small fee helps encourages customers to use reusable bags, thus also reducing the use of paper bags.

How can I avoid the charge?
You can avoid the charge by bringing your own bag or refusing a bag when you make a small purchase that is easy to carry without a bag. Just say no to a disposable bag.

I use plastic bags to pick up my pet’s waste. What will I use instead?
Local pet stores sell bags specifically for this purpose and sale of these bags will not be affected by this ordinance in any way. Existing pet waste stations on trails and in parks will continue to provide plastic bags for discarding pet waste. There will still be many plastic bags in circulation, and you can continue to use bread or chip bags, produce, bulk or cereal bags, or newspaper bags. In addition, while the ordinance restricts single-use plastic grocery and retail bags, it doesn’t restrict produce bags available in-store, which may easily be used for picking up pet waste.

Do bag bans really work?
Yes. The results speak for themselves. Jurisdictions that have instituted similar bans have seen significant changes in the amount of bags used and the problems they cause. One year after LA County implemented its bag ban, there was a 95% reduction in the distribution of all single-use bags, including a 30% reduction in paper bags. San Jose has seen an 89% reduction of plastic bag litter in storm drains, a 60% reduction in creeks, and a 59% reduction in city streets.

What about the statewide plastic bag law?
In September, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 270, the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. The state’s new plastic bag ban allows local ordinances already on the books (like those in Napa County) to remain in effect. The state legislation takes effect July 1, 2015, at large groceries and variety stores such as Wal-Mart and Target, and will be extended to convenience stores and drugstores one year later. 


Is an ordinance the same as a law?
Yes, an ordinance is simply a law or regulation made by a city or town government. Example: The town has passed a zoning ordinance limiting construction.

Why didn't this go on the ballot for a vote?
The California Constitution authorizes the City to “make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with general laws.” There is nothing under either state or federal law that constrains the City’s ability to regulate the sale of bags or to prohibit the sale of disposable bags of a certain manufacture type. Some local measures that impose special taxes must be placed on the ballot; however, the ordinance does not create any special tax, nor does it generate any revenue or general fund money for the city. Thus, it is not subject to this requirement.

Plus, with four community meetings to discuss the proposed city ordinance and public comment at City Council when the item was heard, residents of Napa—and business owners who may not reside in Napa—had the opportunity to have their voices heard and provide input and feedback directly to elected officials rather than just a yes or no vote on the ballot.

How will the ordinance be enforced?
The Code Enforcement Division of the Community Development Department of the City of Napa is responsible for enforcing the City's Municipal Code.

What happens to businesses that do not comply?
The City of Napa and Sustainable Napa County will focus primarily on education and helping businesses comply. For those who are persistently out of compliance, a warning can be issued and fines may be imposed, ranging from $100 to $500, based on provisions relating to enforcement of violations of code set forth under the Napa Municipal Code.

What is being done to educate the public?

To head off any confusion about the differences between state and local laws governing single-use bags, the City of Napa and Sustainable Napa County are planning an outreach campaign to merchants and residents, and the City of Napa’s website will be regularly updated with current information.

Information about new options for residents and customers will be shared online, in newsletters and local media, through point-of-purchase information, in training sessions for retailer staff, and through outreach at community events. A reusable bag promotion is also being developed in order to support local retailers in transition. 

Additionally, local businesses are invited to attend one of two "how-to" workshops. Attendees will receive a Business Toolkit, which includes resources for communicating with employees and customers about the ordinance; helpful tips to ease the transition to reusable bags and to help customers remember their reusable bags; frequently asked questions and the answers about the ordinance; and more. (Follow this link for information on the workshops.) 

Where can I get more information?
There are many sources of available information. Our local NRWS (Napa Recycling and Waste Services) has great information on what we can do with items that can be recycled—visit www.naparecycling.com.

Other resources include Californians Against Waste, Clean Seas Coalition and Green Cities California, igotmybag.org (local cities working together to promote use of reusable bags), and “Bag It—The Movie” (bagitmovie.com) is an eye-opening, yet entertaining feature on plastic bag use and pollution here in our country and in others.

Our goal is to help ease the transition away from single-use plastic bags, and make sure you understand the ordinance and how it will affect you.

If you have additional questions we haven’t addressed, please attend one of the business how-to meetings to learn more or contact us for more information. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Single-Use Carryout Bag Reduction Ordinance

Ordinance Overview


This page was created May 1, 2014 and updated May 29 and October 22, 2014