PALO ALTO, California, December 8, 2012 (ENS) - The City of Palo Alto is in the process of expanding its existing ban on single-use plastic bags at large grocery stores to all retail stores and food service establishments.
The high-tech, high income San Francisco Bay Area peninsula city of 65,000 that hosts Stanford University hopes to encourage the use of reusable bags, decrease the use of single-use plastic and paper bags and reduce pollution in local creeks, San Francisco Bay and the marine environment.
An ordinance restricting single-use plastic bags at Palo Alto's large grocery stores took effect on September 18, 2009. The law was viewed as a first step in addressing the negative impacts of plastic bags in the environment during a time when few community bans on plastic bags existed.
In November 2009, Palo Alto city staff promised a future recommendation to implement a store charge for single-use paper bags and put further limits on single-use carry bags.
Since 2008 city staffers have conducted an annual survey of paper, plastic and reusable bag use at large grocery stores and pharmacies in Palo Alto. They find that although the percentage of shoppers with reusable bags increased from nine percent to 19 percent following the 2009 ordinance, that percentage has not continued to increase.
Although large grocery stores in Palo Alto have complied with the city's 2009 ordinance, plastic litter, including plastic bags, continues to drift into local creeks.
The city is concerned about the thin fly-away bags because they, and other plastics, account for 60 percent of the litter found in local creeks.
It's not just that the plastic litter is unsightly. Local cities are required by the stormwater Municipal Regional Permit to reduce trash loadings to municipal storm sewer systems by 40 percent by 2014, 70 percent by 2017 and 100 percent by 2022.
To reach these mandated goals, Palo Alto must reduce the use of plastic carry bags.
Cities and counties throughout California have passed bans restricting plastic bags and most cities now also require a store charge for paper bags - usually 10 to 25 cents for each bag.
In November, Palo Alto's Public Works Environmental Services released a Draft Environmental Impact Report assessing the potential negative environmental impacts of expanding the city's current bag ban to all retail and food service establishments, adding a store charge for paper bags at retail checkouts and redefining standards for "reusable bag" to make them more durable and long-lasting.
Palo Alto has set a timetable for movement toward its expanded plastic bag ban and held two public meetings on Thursday to discuss the changes.
In February 2013 City Council plans to review the staff's Environmental Impact Report and give the new ordinance first and second readings. If the law is approved, public outreach and education would take place from February through May 2013.
On June 1, 2013, the ordinance would take effect for retail stores, and on Dec. 1, 2013 the law would take effect for food service establishments.
Palo Alto Environmental Specialist Julie Weiss told residents who attended the Thursday meetings that plastic bag reform along the same lines is happening in cities across California and particularly throughout the Bay Area.
Some 80 public agencies statewide have adopted or are considering plastic bag ordinances, Weiss said, according to a report in the "Palo Alto Weekly." San Jose and Sunnyvale, the two largest cities in the county, have bans. Some cities that implemented the 25-cent bag fee have seen an 89 percent increase in reusable bags, Weiss said.
Just eight miles to the south of Palo Alto on the peninsula, the Mountain View City Council voted December 4 to ban most plastic bags starting on Earth Day, April 22, 2013. Mountain View also will impose a fee structure like Palo Alto's on paper bags. Restaurants and nonprofit thrift stores will be exempt.
Mountain View joined with 24 other jurisdictions in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to consider a similar proposed ordinance. The environmental evaluation required by the California Environmental Quality Act for the region was completed and certified on October 23, 2012.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: Pescadero State Beach, San Mateo County, Calif. Author: www78 from flickr.com. Licensed by Creative Commons
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