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City Council sizing up retailers’ reactions to a plastic bag ban

December 31, 2013

Discarded, wind-whipped, single-use plastic bags are a common sight along Wye Road and Spruce Street, which border the Kmart and Vons shopping center. With a proposed state law sitting in the wings awaiting future approval, and the statewide trend of cities instituting their own restrictions, Bishop officials want to know how a ban on plastic bags would impact retailers. Photo by Darcy Ellis

Bishop area elected officials and community leaders are in the process of gauging the retail sector’s reaction to a possible statewide ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.
An online survey created by the Bishop Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau asks merchants, among other questions, whether such a ban would create a financial burden and if so, whether they would pass that expense on to the customer.
According to Chamber Executive Director Tawni Thomson, the survey is part of the Chamber’s efforts to gather information that will help the Bishop City Council decide whether to support Senate Bill 405, the proposed state law banning plastic shopping bags.
Although SB 405 failed to pass the Senate in 2013, it can be brought back for another vote in 2014. There is also a push to eliminate the use of plastic bags in California altogether, with more than 100 cities and counties implementing some kind of ban or restriction in recent years.
Councilwoman Laura Smith, while serving as mayor, had brought a resolution before the council in November that would have spelled out the city’s support of SB 405.
“I particularly love this idea,” Smith said, explaining that plastic bags have become a prolific blight on the local landscape.
“You can literally go out and gather them up” by the armful, she said. “They’re in our water system, our trees, everywhere.”
They’ll also be there awhile, since they take 500-1,000 years to degrade, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Under SB 405:
• Stores must have a recycling program on premises through Jan. 1, 2020 that allows customers to return their plastic bags to be recycled.
• Grocery stores and pharmacies would be prohibited from giving out single-use plastic bags as of Jan. 1, 2015.
• Convenience stores and liquor stores would be similarly prohibited as of July 1, 2016.
• All stores must provide recycled paper bags, compostable paper bags or reusable grocery bags to customers.
Also under SB 405, retailers can face fines and other penalties for failure to comply with the above-listed rules.
According to the text of the bill, the law will allow cities, counties or states to fine retailers as much as $500 for the first violation, $1,000 for the second and $2,000 for the third violation and those thereafter.
The Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery will put the fine money into a Reusable Bag Account, which SB 405 creates in the state’s Integrated Waste Management Fund. The funds in that account can be spent, “upon appropriation by the legislature,” to run the no-plastic-bag program.
The penalties, state funding and burden on business owners proved a sticking point for at least one City Council member.
“In theory, it’s a great idea,” David Stottlemyre said of the plastic bag ban at the Nov. 25 council meeting. “However, there’s a part of it I just don’t like. They’re using this to create another layer of bureaucracy … I don’t like the excessive layers of government added on to it.”
Councilman Keith Glidewell didn’t like the idea of endorsing something without knowing how the community felt about it first, and said he’d like to work with the Chamber of Commerce on gauging retailer sentiment.
The resulting survey, which must be completed by noon on Friday, Jan. 3, asks how merchants would pass the cost on to customers – by raising the price of all merchandise or charging customers per bag – and how much they’d charge per bag: 10 cents or less, 10-25 cents, 25-50 cents or more than 50 cents.
The survey is available online at http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e8q2g9wnhpoq0ix9/a00hhpual3m....
SB 405 failed passage by three votes on May 30, although a reconsideration was granted, meaning it can be reconsidered for approval at another time.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), asked that it be moved to the “inactive file” in June. He remains optimistic that SB 405 or similar legislation will be approved at some point.
“I am convinced that a statewide policy is only a matter of time,” Padilla said in a May press release.
One caveat to Padilla’s law not widely mentioned is that it would not supercede local laws already in place to address the use of single-use plastic shopping bags.
Among the cities throughout California that have instituted their own prohibitions are San Francisco, Los Angeles and all 14 cities in Alameda County.
It’s all part of an effort to eliminate a pollutant at its source, rather than encourage recycling later.
According to the Clean Air Council, Americans use 1 billion plastic shopping bags every year, recycling a paltry 1 percent and sending 30,000 tons of waste into landfills.
The cost to recycle just one ton of plastic bags is $4,000. That plastic can then be sold for a profit of $32.

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