Plastic bags: to ban or not to ban?The free-flowing fountain of single-use plastic bags from local businesses on the Peninsula will not be easy to shut down, but the current effort by Mountain View and 23 other cities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to ban the flimsy throw-aways is a good first step.
When compared to the likely billions or more plastic bags that are in use throughout the United States and around the world, it may seem pointless for the relatively small number of cities to make a stand.
But the two counties and local cities are not trying to save the world with this ordinance, which likely will be considered in the next couple of months, but to simply clear away a large percentage of the bags that pollute our open space and waterways.
In the process, we hope local shoppers will get the message that by purchasing a few low-cost reuseable bags they will be able to wean themselves entirely from dependency on the single-use bags that for most users are difficult to reuse or recycle.
It appears to us that if consumers break the habit of being provided a single-use bag, supposedly free with every purchase, there is not much of a reason to keep producing these single-use bags other than to create more profit for the chemical industry. Although a small percentage of the single-use bags are recycled, most still end up in the waste stream and take years to decompose. It is difficult to imagine how many tons of this thin plastic material are blowing and floating around the earth even though we know they are terrible for the environment. Among other reasons, local governments say they are acting to keep the bags out of the Pacific Ocean, local creeks and San Francisco Bay, as well as city water treatment facilities.
By no means would the proposed ordinance cover all plastic bags. Among the exceptions would be bags used by nonprofit organizations, charity-operated thrift stores, and restaurants. Grocery stores, clothing stores and other retailers would have to charge 10 cents apiece for a paper bag for the first 18 months the ordinance is in force, and increase the amount to 25 cents later. The plans is for the ordinance to go into effect on July 1, 2013.
Contrary to some critics, who charge that a ban on plastic bags would be hard on local businesses, city analyst Cynthia Palacio, who has been researching the bag ban, said last week that she has not seen strong opposition from business owners, although, as expected there have been questions raised about now the proposed ordinance would work. The Mountain View Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a position on the ordinance, Palacio told the Voice.
In her research, Palacio also debunked other misconceptions about the ordinance, including:
Question: How many trees would be cut down by increased use of paper bags?
Answer: Paper bags are made from recycled material and are easily recycled and do not cause litter like plastic bags.
Q. Aren't plastic bags easily recycled?
A. Plastic bags are not easily recycled and have little market value. Palacio found that only 3 to 5 percent of plastic bags are actually recycled.
Q. Wouldn't the requirement that local businesses keep records of their bag sales be a huge burden?
A. Businesses in Sunnyvale and San Jose, which already have the ordinance, have not complained about a burden.
It is time to move forward with this sensible ordinance that will help do away with tons of unwanted plastic waste that pollutes our neighborhoods, our parks and open space and our waterways. With reuseable bags, we can all do a small part to help clean up our environment.