A major change in habits for the average consumer is in the works, and the City Council is expected to vote on it this Tuesday.
On Jan. 27 the council is scheduled to decide whether to back a county proposal that discourages the use of all single use shopping bags, paper or plastic.
Under the proposal, consumers throughout Santa Clara County would be charged 25 cents for every paper or plastic bag issued. Similar measures have been proposed in several American cities, sparking strong opposition from plastic bag manufacturers.
"It sounds like a good idea," said Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. "But I'm sure I'll be hearing from all sides."
Local environmentalist Bruce England said all those bags do more harm than good.
"Because they are so light and blow around, it's a problem," he said. Eventually, he noted, many of them join "a huge mass of plastic and plastic bags in the North Pacific."
Paper bags have their own drawbacks: Trees must be cut down for the pulp, and petroleum is used transporting them to stores.
Environmentalists want shoppers to bring in reusable bags, England said, but most people forget to bring them; the fee, environmentalists say, serves as a constant reminder.
In Ireland, plastic bag use reportedly dropped by 90 percent when a small fee was imposed. In the U.S., however, the plastic bag industry has taken cities and counties to court, especially when paper bags are not discouraged as well. Mountain View city staffers say they would like to back a county effort rather than push forward an ordinance unique to Mountain View.
County officials agree that a county-wide proposal is best, as it would be less confusing than having different ordinances in each city. The Mountain View City Council has listed the county proposal among its top 19 goals for environmental sustainability.
Plastic bags cannot be tossed into normal recycling bins because they jam sorting equipment at recycling centers. Though plastic bag manufacturers say bag recycling is increasing, less than 5 percent of plastic bags currently are recycled, according to the California Integrated Waste Management Board.
Palo Alto calculates that its own proposed ban on paper and plastic bags would save large local supermarkets, collectively, nearly $1 million annually. Los Altos, meanwhile, recently voted against the county proposal.