Only a few residents have come out strongly against the ban at recent city meetings, many of them questioning the claimed environmental damage the bags do and advocating for more recycling instead.
As part of an effort that spans 24 cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, a ban has been proposed on single-use plastic bags in Mountain View, which officials say they are causing a trash problem in the Pacific Ocean, the San Francisco Bay and local creeks. The bags also clog water treatment facilities, Palacio said.
The ban would not cover bags distributed by nonprofits, charity-run thrift stores, restaurants and bags used for produce, meat or prescriptions. Grocery stores, clothing stores and other retailers would have to charge 10 cents for a paper bag for the first 18 months, and then 25 cents. The ordinance could go into effect July 1, 2013.
At a meeting Tuesday night, Palacio presented the ordinance and took input from a handful of residents, one of whom said he wanted Mountain View to be "part of what I hope is a worldwide trend to ban these things. It is a worldwide problem. The bags end up in waterways and travel thousands of miles and are deposited worldwide." Another supporter said he wanted the city's ban to be "as strict as possible."
Among those who had concerns was a woman who said the ban would be "very limiting for people who don't have cars." She gave the example of buying fabric and having to take it home in the rain. "What would you do about these unusual things that require protection?" she asked.
Palacio said Mountain View has been promoting a shift to re-usable bags since 2009, and that the fee to be charged on paper bags is designed to encourage their use.
City Council candidate Jim Neal had a host of issues with the proposed ordinance.
"Government consistently tries to solve problems that don't exist," he said. "It would be nice to know what the actual impact is on the environment, especially animals." He also said he wondered how many trees would be cut down for additional paper bag use.
Palacio said paper bags are made from recycled material, are easily recycled and don't blow around and cause litter problems like plastic bags.
Neal said it was also "misleading" to call plastic bags "single use" bags. "I reuse my bags all the time," he said.
Plastic bags are not easily recycled and have little market value, Palacio said. "We find only 3 to 5 percent of plastic bags are actually recycled."
"I want to know where the cities get the authority to charge 10 cents," for a paper bag," Neal said. "You are basically telling the businesses how much they have to charge for a product. I'd like to know where that authority comes from."
Neal said the ordinance would also require businesses to keep records of their bag sales for three years, "a huge burden on businesses."
Palacio said later that it doesn't appear to be a burden on businesses in cities that have already adopted the ordinance, including San Jose and Sunnyvale.
Resident Don Ball had concerns about the cleanliness of reusable bags, saying he watched a grocery store clerk load a bag that had the remains of a crushed banana in it.
"Have there been any studies as far as cross-contamination from people who don't wash their bags?" Ball asked.
Palacio said studies showed "virtually every object exposed to human contact has bacteria. Just like any other object in the house, it's recommended that reusable bags be sanitized routinely."
She added that reusable bags are required to be machine washable.
San Francisco, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and San Jose have already banned plastic bags, and it appears that most of the Peninsula may soon follow suit. With the exception of Hillsborough and Atherton, San Mateo County's cities are considering the same ban. In Santa Clara County, Mountain View is joined by Milpitas, Cupertino, Los Gatos and Los Altos in considering the ordinance, which "was hammered out by early adopters that listened to their residents and business," Palacio said.
The City Council voted 5-1 in April to study the proposed ban, with members John Inks opposed and Tom Means absent. It is expected to cost the city $10,000.
Some have noted that it would create a more level playing field for businesses if all cities had the same ban, which Palacio said is the goal of the effort.
"I feel strongly if we're going to do it, we should do it at the state level," said one attendee Tuesday night.
The proposed ordinance's draft environmental impact report, found at mvrecycle.org, finds beneficial impacts to water and air quality, as well as to wildlife and wildlife habitat. No significant negative impacts to the environment would be caused by the proposed ordinance, according to the EIR.
"The reduction in the amount of single-use plastic bags would be expected to reduce the overall amount of litter entering the coastal and bay habitat, thus reducing litter-related impacts to sensitive wildlife species and sensitive habitats," says the EIR.
Responses to the EIR are due Monday. August 6 and should be sent to San Mateo County planner Camille Leung, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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