The Daily Californian Online

City Considers Ban on Plastic Bags, Extra Fee for Paper Bags

By Aaida Samad
Contributing Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Category: News > City > City Government

Berkeley officials are once again considering the implementation of an ordinance that could reduce single-use paper and plastic shopping bags in the city following the rejection of a California State Assembly bill that would have imposed similar restrictions.

The ordinance would prohibit retail stores in Berkeley from providing plastic checkout bags to customers and introduce a fee for each single-use paper checkout bag provided to customers, according to the text of the ordinance.

Although the ordinance was submitted to the Berkeley City Council in June, it was deemed unnecessary because of the assembly bill, which would have banned plastic shopping bags across the state, according to Nashua Kalil, a member of the city's Zero Waste Commission.

According to Claudette Ford, the city's director of Public Works, the state senate's rejection of the bill on Aug. 31 will likely lead city officials to decide on the ordinance this month.

"In light of the state failing to take action on this issue, we need to take actions ourselves," Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, Bay Area residents use 3.8 billion plastic bags per year. The average usage time for a single-use plastic bag is 12 minutes, according to the website for Save the Bay, an organization dedicated to environmental preservation in the Bay Area.

According to Shari Jackson, director of the Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council - an organization that promotes the recycling of plastic bags - bans are an ineffective way to reducing pollution because they often result in unintended consequences.

"We think a better approach than bans is looking to reduce wasteful bagging processes, reusing bags ... and encouraging people to recycle the bags they have left," Jackson said. "Plastic bags are an environmentally responsible choice."

Jackson added that plastic bag bans cause an increase in the use of paper bags, which are detrimental to the environment because of the resources expended during their manufacture.

"In terms of charging for paper bags, we don't think it's the way to go," she said. "It's not a pro-consumer thought in these economic times, and it's a burden on people when they really can't afford it."

Last year, Save the Bay named the shoreline running along Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany one of 10 trash "hot spots" around the San Francisco Bay. At last year's California Coastal Cleanup Day, volunteers collected over 3,500 plastic bags on this stretch of shoreline, according to the ordinance.

"We would like for cities to pass ordinances that ban plastic bags and urge the community to switch to reusable bags," said Amy Ricard, media relations manager for Save the Bay. "The goal is to take plastic bags out of distribution, which in turn take them out of the waste stream and in turn take them out of the bay."

She said every year, an estimated one million plastic bags end up in the bay, smothering wetland habitats, polluting the water and endangering wildlife that get entangled, ingests or gets entangled in the bags.

According to Councilmember Gordon Wozniak, plastic bags come at an incredible cost to the environment because they do not degrade. He added that cloth bags are a more ecologically viable solution because they can be reused many times.

Worthington said single-use bag usage is an important environmental issue that municipalities can tackle, even without state support.

"While it would be better for the state to take action ... it's situations like these where individual cities taking action can blaze the trail for what's good for the environment."

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