A giant step to clean up our environmentApril 22 of the new year will mark a milestone on the environmental front, when the ubiquitous white plastic bags will no longer be provided at many local grocery stores. Instead, shoppers will have a choice of bringing their own bags or paying 10 cents each for paper bags that in most cases are made from recycled fiber. That price will go up to 25 cents in two years.
Mountain View will join many other Peninsula cities which enacted the ban along with San Mateo County, which conducted the environmental impact report that is being shared by many cities in this county that also are enacting a ban. Although City Council members Tom Means and John Inks were opposed, Mountain View's measure passed 5-2 and will take effect on April 22, Earth Day.
That is appropriate, as few measures enacted by any city council could do more to clean up the environment than banning the throwaway bags, which government officials at every level say needlessly litter our streets and pollute our waterways. Council member Laura Macias told her colleagues during discussion of the measure that in San Jose the number of plastic bags found in a storm drain decreased by 89 percent and the number of bags on city streets decreased by 59 percent after the bags were shut off.
Means and Inks are Libertarians and echoed arguments used by some opponents of the measure — the loss of personal freedom that comes with restricting what type of bag is available for purchase or use at local stores.
Inks said he has used canvas bags while shopping for the last 20 years, but resents the fact that he does not have a choice at the store. And Means said he wishes the city could be a little more tolerant of people who make different choices. "I don't think government should be in the role of one size fits all," he said at the Dec. 4 meeting.
For others, this type of action is exactly what government should be doing, protecting the environment for all to enjoy. Council member Ronit Bryant defended the need for an ordinance, which she has promoted for four years.
"Education doesn't work and plastic bags don't really recycle," she said. "It's not been that long since we didn't use single-use plastic bags. It was only in the mid-1980s that big industry decided to make more money by making plastic bags. Life can go on very well without single-use plastic bags."
There are many exceptions in this initial ordinance. For example, restaurants and nonprofit thrift stores can use the bags, and "protective" plastic bags will be allowed for meat, nuts and bolts at hardware stores, prescriptions and newspapers, dry cleaning and greeting cards, a city official told the Voice.
Wildlife will be another big beneficiary of the ban. Macias told the council that while visiting McKelvey Park she saw a bird with a plastic bag stuck in its mouth.
"With its beak wrapped in a plastic bag, I knew it was just a matter of time before this bird was exhausted. And of course the bird had no way of getting the plastic bag out of its mouth," she said.
Residents may think that Mountain View's ban of single use plastic bags won't have much impact, but if all cities on the Peninsula participate, it will make a sizable reduction in the amount of litter we find on our beaches and in our waterways, as well as on streets and in sewer mains. The time is right to shut off this stream of plastic that we can easily do without. Make sure you stock up on reusable bags well before April 22. There may be a shortage!