Last year our City Council passed the ordinance created by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors to outlaw the use of plastic bags and to add a 10 cent charge for paper bags given to customers from our retailers. A business failing to comply with this ordinance can result in a fine for the business. This ordinance will go into effect on April 22, 2013 here in South City. The plastic bag ban does allow for certain exceptions such as restaurant usage and plastic bags needed for certain products. While the County has set forth the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and completed the passage of the ordinance, it is now up to those cities that participated in the EIR to come up with language of their own to mandate this ordinance within their own cities by April 2013.
There was much debate and discussion while the studies were being conducted with the ending result of multiple local counties accepting the ordinance; San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. The ban is being observed internationally as well with Australia, Haiti, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and Tanzania. Credit for this international movement goes to the Surfrider Foundation as they continue the efforts and have seen success in these United States:
ALASKA – 3 Ordinances Covering 3 Municipalities
CALIFORNIA – 47 Ordinances Covering 68 Municipalities
COLORADO – 4 ordinances covering 4 municipalities
CONNECTICUT – 1 ordinance covering 1 municipality.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – 1 ordinance covering 1 municipality.
HAWAII – 4 ordinances covering the entire state.
IOWA – 1 ordinance covering 1 municipality.
MARYLAND – 2 ordinances covering 21 municipalities.
MASSACHUSETTS – 2 ordinances covering 2 municipalities
NEW YORK – 4 ordinances covering 4 municipalities.
NORTH CAROLINA – 1 ordinance covering 9 municipalities
OREGON – 3 ordinances covering 3 municipalities.
TEXAS – 5 ordinances covering 5 municipalities
RHODE ISLAND – 1 ordinance covering 1 municipality
WASHINGTON – 6 ordinances covering 6 municipalities
While many agree on the necessity of banning plastic bags due to the environmental damage they are responsible for, it is the mandated charge for paper bags that have some shaking their head in question.
Following the passage of the San Carlos’ “plastic bag ban,” it is apparent there is some confusion. The ordinance has a requirement that retailers charge 10 cents for a paper bag, if that’s what the customer chooses. I’ve seen it confused for a charge by the city, a fee or a tax. To be clear, it is none of these. It is, rather, a government-mandated, minimum price. If a retailer gives away a bag for free, they can be fined by the county.
The mandate is one reason I voted “no.” Clearly, the federal government doesn’t have the right to demand that a merchant charge a minimum price for items leaving their store, and I was pretty sure we didn’t have it in California either. To be certain, I reviewed the California Constitution online, using the “word search” feature to make sure I didn’t miss something. Despite it being wordy to a fault and full of “exceptions,” I couldn’t find the clause giving that power to the government anywhere.
At our council meeting, I asked staff, “Has government ever mandated minimum prices?” Answer: the bottle deposit. Not quite. With one, you can get your money back; with the other, you kiss it goodbye.
Ten cents is not a big deal. Ignoring the limits placed on government by the Constitution, now that is a big deal. We are on a slippery slope. Government already uses taxes and fees to “encourage” behavior. Mandating prices is now added to the list. The United Kingdom offers us an example: they passed a law in 2011 mandating a minimum price for alcohol. Why? To curb “binge” drinking.
And to think we fought the English to escape their overreach.
The letter writer is a member of the San Carlos City Council.
As our own city looks to implement this ordinance in a few short weeks, there are some that are echoing Grocott’s concern of the over stepping of the government mandate of 10 cents a bag. While the overall intention of reducing non-reusable packing is something we all must take serious, dictating to our merchants what they can charge is a ‘slippery-slope’ as Grocott states.
Everything South City has done a few articles on the aggressive clean up of our creeks and areas of high pollution, due in part by plastic bags and other debris, which has been done by our Community Preservation Task Force SSFCPTF). To review these articles click here and here
Here is some background from our San Mateo County office on the reasoning behind the need to ban plastic bags.
Plastic Bags and Encourage Reusable Bags
10/23/2012–REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors today voted to protect the environment by banning the free distribution of single-use carry-out bags at retail outlets, the first step in what the Board hopes will be a region-wide effort. The Board voted 5 to 0 to phase out the use of plastic bags by retailers in unincorporated areas of the county by April 22, 2013, giving time for stores and consumers to comply with the new law and to locate reusable bags. (View Staff Report)
“We’re going to devote time and energy over the coming months to reach out to consumers and businesses, educating them about the environmental benefits of the ordinance and giving them time to adjust,”said Board President Adrienne J. Tissier, who co-sponsored the ordinance along with Supervisor Carole Groom.
Recognizing that plastic bags blowing in the wind,clogging creeks and streams and littering the environment is a regional problem, the Board also approved an Environmental Impact Report that can be used by 24 Peninsula cities in adopting their own ordinances. The report found that a staggering 552 million plastic bags are used annually in the 24 cities and the unincorporated area of San Mateo County.
“We’re eliminating more than 500 million plastic bags annually, to the benefit of the San Francisco Bay, our local rivers and creeks, and local wildlife,” said Supervisor Carole Groom. Starting April 22, 2013, shoppers requesting a paper bag would be charged a minimum of 10 cents per bag until Dec. 31, 2014, and 25 cents per paper bag starting Jan. 1, 2015. The ordinance is expected to cut down the use of disposable plastic bags by 95 percent. Environmental groups praised the Board’s action, testifying during a public hearing that plastic bags pose a serious environmental threat. Reducing the number of plastic bags in circulation should also save taxpayer dollars that will no longer need to be spent collecting the litter
“Today, our Board of Supervisors took a significant step toward reducing the plastic that litters our neighborhoods, harms and kills wildlife, and pollutes the bay and ocean waters we have the good fortune to share,” said Dean Peterson, Director of Environmental Health for San Mateo County. “A simple commitment to bring our own bag whenever we shop will have positive effects that extend well beyond our County’s borders.” Restaurants were exempted, as were non-profit organizations with retail outlets. Grocery retailers will still be able to distribute small plastic bags that customers can use to take vegetables, fruit, meats and pharmaceuticals to check out. Customers participating in certain programs for low-income residents may be provided a reusable bag at no charge.
The cities in San Mateo County that participated in the EIR were: Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half MoonBay, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco and Woodside. Cities in Santa Clara County that participated in the EIR are Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Milpitas and Mountain View. The environmental impact report found that 20 billion plastic bags are used annually in California with less than 10 percent of those being recycled.