Council OKs plastic bag ban | December 7, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - December 7, 2012

Council OKs plastic bag ban

Starting in April, plastic grocery bags will be thing of the past

by Daniel DeBolt

The days of plastic grocery bags in Mountain View are numbered. City Council members voted on Tuesday to ban the distribution of most plastic bags in Mountain View starting on Earth Day next year.

"There have been a few emails saying, 'This is silly, don't you have more important things to do? " said council member Ronit Bryant. "This is not silly. This is about our waterways basically being clogged by plastic bags, this is about islands of plastic bags in the ocean. There are serious costs for the city every year."

With council members Tom Means and John Inks opposed, council members voted 5-2 in favor of the ban, which is designed to encourage the use of reusable bags, beginning April 22, 2013. Grocery stores will still be able to offer paper bags, but at a minimum cost of 10 cents per bag, going up to 25 cents in two years. Restaurants and non-profit thrift stores are exempt.

"Protective" plastic bags will still be allowed for such items as meat, nuts and bolts at hardware stores, prescriptions, newspapers, dry cleaning and greeting cards, said Cynthia Palacio, senior analyst for the city's public works department.

Mountain View joined San Mateo County and several other cities in Santa Clara County to do the environmental impact report necessary to propose the ordinance, saving the city the costs of the analysis. Palo Alto, San Jose and unincorporated Santa Clara County already have similar bans and council members said it's been well received in those areas.

Council member Laura Macias noted that in San Jose, after its ban was put in place, "the number of plastic bags found in a storm drain was reduced by 89 percent" and the number of bags on streets was "reduced by 59 percent."

"I would love to see that decrease of bags in Mountain View," she said "Every time I see one, I think it's a waste."

Not everyone is happy about the ordinance. Two residents raised concern about germs spreading in grocery stores from unwashed reusable grocery bags.

Tim James, a representative of the California State Grocers Association, supported the ban and said he had not heard any concern about the spread of germs from grocers or health inspectors. The association is in contact with "health safety officers in all 58 counties and we've never heard any concern," James said.

Inks and Means opposed what they saw as a limit on personal freedom.

"As an exclusive canvas bag shopper for 20 years, I kind of resent the fact that some people are trying to tell me I don't have that choice,"Inks said, explaining his opposition.

"I wish we would be little more tolerant of people that make different choices," Means said. "I'm not going to support this. I don't think government should be in the role of one-size fits all."

Bryant, who has pushed for such an ordinance for four years, defended the need for the ordinance.

"Education doesn't work and plastic bags don't really recycle," Bryant said. "It's not been that long since we didn't use single-use plastic bags. It was only in 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."

"Not every detail of the proposal here seems to be me the best and most wonderful, but the critical point is a regional solution," Byrant said. "For businesses, what they want is a regional solution, the same set of guidelines, the same sets of rules. Many cities in the area are participating in the San Mateo EIR and so we have here a regional solution."

Several speakers and council members brought up the effects on wildlife, including Laura Kasa of Save Our Shores, a group which organizes 250 beach and waterway cleanups a year. Kasa noticed a dramatic decrease in plastic bags on beaches as a result of recent bans in the area. She called plastic bags, even the compostable ones, "death machines" for marine life. Council member Jac Siegel agreed, calling plastic bags "devastating."

Macias recalled seeing a bird with a plastic bag stuck in its mouth at McKelvey Park. "I was just there hanging out with my dog and saw a bird struggling. Wrapped in its beak was a plastic bag," she said. "I know it was just a matter of time before this bird was exhausted. Of course this bird had no way of getting the plastic bag out of its mouth."

Three Mountain View High School students spoke in support of the ordinance and presented a petition with 140 signatures of support from students gathered during lunch period.

"A lot of people were saying, 'Mountain View doesn't have that yet?' and they were surprised," said Abby Cunniff, president of the Mountain View High School Environmental Club. "I know we're just kids now, but plastic is forever. It never breaks down and we're going to have to deal with that someday."

The ordinance will be enforced on a complaint basis and by surprise visits to stores, Palacio said. The city has budgeted $10,000 to raise awareness about it and distribute reusable bags.

Email Daniel DeBolt at


Posted by Unhappy, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 6, 2012 at 6:06 pm

This is a feel-good issue lacking real facts and support.

How many empty plastic bags lying in streets/creeks do MV people see on a regular basis? I've seen 1 or 2 in 10 years.

Maybe in some bigger cities and places with lots of homeless or very low income there is a problem - not in MV.

I thought we lived in a LIBERAL community that cherishes CHOICE and DIVERSITY - but looks like instead we have a city council that wants to force people to do things the way the council wants.

Posted by Sheryl, a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 7, 2012 at 8:01 am

Thank you MV Council! I agree that the effects on wildlife are the critical issue, and properly functioning storm drain systems are vital as well. For those who really, really love their plastic bags, buy a box, and bring a couple of them shopping with you (like I do with cloth bags to avoid the automatic plastic bag default that is the norm now). Then you can still get what you want as an individual, but the overall community benefits of the ban will still be significant. It's an accommodation either way. This way just tips in favor of the environment.

Posted by Sparty, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 8, 2012 at 9:18 am

Good to see they're really on top of things. It only took about 3 months for the gang grafitti ON and around Castro school to be removed. Well over six months for the gang graffiti on a rock in the landscaping at Castro school

Posted by William Symons, a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 10, 2012 at 9:09 am

To Unhappy:
YES there are extraordinary numbers of plastic bags to be found in drains, creeks, streets. Our family adopted a section of Stevens Creek several years ago, and the amount of bags that remained lodged stuck along the creek, only was a slight indication of how many have made it to the bay.

To this day, it is not profitable for community recycling centers to take plastic bags,, so there is no market, and no incentive to recycle.
Council Member, ex mayor Bryant, noted the obvious, the discovery of the vast dump of styrofoam and plastic found floating in the middle of the pacific. Do we ignore that? The public has proven they can't personally be responsible, nor business, so government must step in. I hardly see that action as BIG BROTHER stepping too far.

Posted by Howard Myers, a resident of Shoreline West
on Mar 12, 2013 at 8:48 pm

The law of unintended consequences comes in to play here. The sign does not say you must wash your bag often to avoid the risk of cross contamination. But that's okay the city council feels better about itself, that's what counts. The references below are not some random blogger but from scientists.
Recently, many jurisdictions have implemented bans or imposed taxes upon plastic grocery bags on environmental grounds. San Francisco County was the first major US jurisdiction to enact such a regulation, implementing a ban in 2007. There is evidence, however, that reusable grocery bags, a common substitute for plastic bags, contain potentially harmful bacteria. We examine emergency room admissions related to these bacteria in the wake of the San Francisco ban. We find that ER visits spiked when the ban went into effect. Relative to other counties, ER admissions increase by at least one fourth, and deaths exhibit a similar increase. Web Link

These results indicate that reusable bags can play a significant role in the cross contamination of foods if not properly washed on a regular basis. It is recommended that the public needs to be educated about the proper care of reusable bags by printed instructions on the bags or through public service announcements. Web Link

You did not look very hard to find evidence of risk.

Posted by paper bags, a resident of Whisman Station
on May 14, 2013 at 12:41 am

The thing that doesn't make sense here in the arguments presented is the forced charge of 10 - 25 cents for paper bags. If single use plastic bags are a problem, then ban them, but I don't see a justification for charging a new paper bag tax. If businesses are willing to provide paper bags free of charge, that shouldn't be prevented by a law that supposedly is to address the "evil plastic bags".

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Gemello
on Jul 31, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Ah, see, it's not about plastic bags in waterways. It's about how to come up with a reason to charge you 10 cents per bag. Otherwise, yes, explain why I now have to pay 10 cents for a paper bag at Trader Joe's, which always had paper bags? The bag law is a scam.

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2013 at 8:25 am

My family has just got back from vacation. We came back with every plastic bag we acquired. I reckon that with careful usage, I have enough to last until the next vacation.

Posted by MichaelThect, a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 4, 2017 at 11:49 pm

wh0cd890809 [url=Web Link] [url=Web Link Online[/url]

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