Plastic Bags Banned in San Jose

San Jose, California recently added its name to the growing number of cities banning the use of plastic bags.  Tuesday, December 14, San Jose’s city council passed a 10-1 ordinance prohibiting plastic bag use in most retail establishments.  According to the San Francisco Chronicle, approximately 5,000 businesses would feel the affect of the plastic bag ban.

San Jose is not the first city in California to pass such an ordinance.  In 2005, San Francisco officials “considered imposing a 17-cent tax on petroleum-based plastic bags before reaching a deal with the California Grocers Association.”  The agreement stated that in 2006 large supermarkets must reduce the number of plastic bags given to shoppers by 10 million.  By the end of the year, the Grocers Association claimed it cut back by 7.6 million, but city officials claimed the figures were unreliable based on poor data supplied by the supermarkets. Disagreements renewed interest in banning all plastic bag use.  March of 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban petroleum-based plastic bag use.  Legislation voted 10-1 that large markets and pharmacies must use compostable bags made of corn starch or bags made of recycled paper.

Not the first city to prohibit plastic bag use, San Jose became the largest city in the United States prohibiting carry-out bags.  The ordinance, starting January 1, 2012, includes most retailers, excluding restaurants and nonprofit, secondhand stores.  Plastic bags will also continue to be used to protect meat and produce.  Sandwich bags and trash bags will be unaffected by the ordinance.  Supporters of the ordinance state the new law “was the most far-reaching in the country aimed at encouraging shoppers to bring reusable totes.”

The widespread banning is not the only reason the ordinance is considered the most far-reaching.  To encourage shoppers to bring his or her own reusable bag, retailers will charge 10 cents per disposable paper bag.  That amount will increase to 25 cents by 2014.  Food-stamp recipients and low-income situations will be exempted from costs.  Retailers who do not follow the ordinance will face fines of $500 to $1,000 for violations.  According to Save the Bay executive director, David Lewis, the combination of fees and fines places San Jose’s ban as the strictest ban across the country.

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Critics of the ban, such as the American Chemistry Council, feel government officials should promote recycling instead of banning.  The Council, which represents plastic bag makers, claimed their product is being “unfairly maligned.”  They cited plastic bags can be recycled into products such as shopping carts and composite lumber.  Lewis argued recycling efforts are not enough and has failed in the past.  Reports show the Bay Area uses about 3.8 billion plastic bags per year.  Lewis says only 5 percent of bags are recycled and roughly 1 million end up in the San Francisco Bay, where the bags harm birds and other marine animals.

San Jose joins ten other cities in California with similar bans.  Long Beach, Santa Monica, and Santa Cruz are considering laws restricting plastic bag use as well.  Internationally, Ireland and China practice successful bag ban policies.   In 2009, the U.N. Environmental Program pushed for a global ban on plastic bag production.  Washington D.C. approved a bag tax, but overall bag ban policies in the United States have not seen the success rate of other countries.  The majority of San Jose councilmen are optimistic about the positive affects the plastic bag ban will provide.  Councilman Sam Liccardo says the ordinance is a great step and “an opportunity to lead on an important environmental issue.

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