Carmel, California Takes First Step to Ban Plastic Bags

Carmel, California Takes First Step to Ban Plastic Bags

CARMEL-BY-THE-SEA, California, June 9, 2012 (ENS) - In a unanimous 5-0 vote, Carmel-by-the-Sea lawmakers took action June 5 to ban single-use plastic bags.

The City Council voted on a first reading of the ordinance, which would prohibit distribution of plastic bags at markets and retail outlets and would not impose a fee on paper bags.

Second reading of the ordinance will take place on July 3. If approved then, the law would take effect six months from the final reading on February 3, 2013.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, population 3,722, is located about 120 miles south of San Francisco. The village has pursued a development strategy to enhance its coastal beauty and to retain its character, which the general plan describes as "a village in a forest overlooking a white sand beach."

Steering the ban through Carmel's legislative process is Mayor Jason Burnett, a natural supporter of environmental protection, including a plastic bag ban.

During the Bush Administration, Burnett was associate deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, where he coordinated energy and climate change policy. He resigned in 2008 in protest of the EPA's rejection of California's request for a federal waiver that would allow the state to enforce limits on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

Burnett also is the founder of Burnett EcoEnergy, a company that structures and secures financing for renewable energy and energy efficency projects. Elected mayor earlier this year, he follows a list of mayors who were poets or actors, including actor-director Clint Eastwood, who served from 1986 to 1988.

Although Carmel City Council did not vote to impose a fee on paper bags, council members will be working with the nonprofit group Sustainable Carmel and the Carmel Chamber of Commerce to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags to Carmel stores.

Representing the nonprofit Save Our Shores, Lauren Gilligan presented the Council with a petition bearing 370 signatures from all over the world in support of a plastic bag ban for Carmel.

Save Our Shores is urging Carmel stores to establish an incentive program so that shoppers who bring their own reusable bags on shopping trips either receive a discount on purchases or get to donate to a charity.

"When I think of Carmel, I think of a classy town. There is nothing less classy than a plastic bag blowing down the street. Let's be classy, not trashy, and pass this ban on plastic bags for Carmel," said award-winning University of California, Santa Cruz marine biologist Vicki Pearse before the vote.

Pearse is a member of the Central Coast Sanctuary Alliance of local businesses and conservation organizations and Sustainable Pacific Grove.

Another Central Coast Sanctuary Alliance member, the national oceans conservation group Oceana, has been advocating to the Carmel City Council for months to take action to rid the area of plastic bags.

"In addition to this pollution being unsightly, it also affects wildlife when animals inadvertently ingest or choke on plastic bags. Over 267 species of marine wildlife have been affected by plastic bag litter," Oceana said in a statement after the Carmel vote.

Oceana is particularly concerned about the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle. The largest of all sea turtles, the leatherback swims 6,000 miles from its nesting beaches in Indonesia to California waters to feed on jellyfish.

"These prehistoric turtles easily mistake plastic bags swirling in the water for jellies ... the turtles suffer dire consequences like malnutrition, starvation, intestinal blockage, suffocation, and drowning. Oceana cites a recent study finding that more than one-third of all Pacific leatherbacks necropsied since the 1960s had plastic in their gastrointestinal tracts.

Carmel conservationists say they are hoping that city officials will not be approached by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, the plastic industry lobbying group that sues city councils for attempting to pass plastic bag bans.

Formed in June 2008, the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition says, "The anti-plastic bag campaign is largely based on myths, misinformation, and exaggerations."

Much of its litigation has been filed to oppose bans of plastic bags used at restaurants. According to the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition, restaurant bag bans are prohibited by the California Retail Food Code. See: "Can't Ban Plastic Bags in California Restaurants?"

The City and County of San Francisco and the City of Carpinteria have adopted ordinances banning plastic bags at restaurants and now face lawsuits to invalidate their ordinances filed by the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition.

All other California jurisdictions that have banned plastic bags have exempted restaurants, including: Alameda County, Los Angeles County, Marin County, Santa Clara County, the City of Dana Point, the City of Laguna Beach, the City of Long Beach, the City of Ojai, the City of San Jose, and the City of Santa Monica.

Santa Cruz County and the City of Manhattan Beach initially banned plastic bags at restaurants but have amended their laws to exempt restaurants.

To date, 20 cities and six counties in California have either have adopted or fully implemented plastic bag bans. Another 44 cities and six counties are in process of considering such bans.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

Cover photo: Ocean Avenue, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Credit: Alvis.

PHOTO: Aerial photograph of Point Lobos, Carmel-By-The-Sea, and Highway 1,
Monterey County, California. (Photo by Michael Rymer)
Above Point Lobos and Carmel-By-The-Sea, Monterey County, California

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