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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.
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“Single-use, plastic carryout bag” means any bag less than 2.25 milliliter 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.
Since 2011, there has been no California law (PDF) 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.