The days of happy Los Gatos shoppers walking into their favorite establishments to purchase goods later deposited into single-use plastic carryout bags look numbered.
The Los Gatos Town Council held a study session this week to authorize staff to draft an ordinance regulating single-use plastic bags and expanded polystyrene.
The move is in response to the Council's July 2012 adoption of a sustainability plan that calls for measures to reduce solid waste, a staff report stated.
"The use of single-use carry out bags contributes to negative environmental impacts on air quality, biological resources, greenhouse gas emissions and water quality, and contributes to the increase of litter in storm drains, creeks, the bay and the ocean," the report added.
In October 2009, the Santa Clara County Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission recommended that all jurisdictions in the county establish a ban on plastic single-use, carry-out bags and a mandatory charge on paper carry-out bags at retail stores, excluding restaurants and fast -food establishments, the report said.
In June 2011, the Santa Clara County Cities Association supported this recommendation.
According to town staff, environmental consultants have estimated that 531 plastic bags are used per person annually in Los Gatos. Adopting a single-use bag ordinance would potentially eliminate nearly 16 million plastic bags annually, which would assist in meeting the town' s goal for solid waste reduction.
In September 2011, San Mateo County conducted an environmental impact report on potential impacts of regulating the use of plastic bags and how to develop an ordinance for regional adoption.
Los Gatos and 23 cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, that were also considering a single-use ban ordinance, were invited to participate in the process. Municipalities in Santa Clara County included Los Gatos, Milpitas, Cupertino, Los Altos, Campbell and Mountain View.
San Mateo County Board of Supervisors finalized that EIR in October 2012.
Other cities have also adopted or are considering adopting an ordinance, including Palo Alto, San Jose, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Altos, Cupertino and Campbell.
State legislation regarding single-use carryout bags includes Senate Bill 405, authored by Senator Alex Padilla and Assembly Bill 158, authored by Assemblyman Marc Levine. Each measure seeks to prohibit stores that have a specified amount of dollar sales or retail floor space from providing a single-use carryout bag to a customer.
The Los Gatos ordinance would apply to any commercial establishment that sells perishable or nonperishable goods, including, but not limited to, clothing, food, and personal items, directly to the customer; and is located with or doing business within the geographical limits of the town, according to staff.
The ordinance would have the following components:
- Prohibit the free distribution of single-use carryout paper and plastic bags;
- Require retail establishments to charge customers for recycled paper bags and reusable bags at the point of sale.
- The minimum charge would be 10 cents per paper bag until Dec. 31, 2014;
- Increase the minimum charge to 25 cents per paper bag on or after Jan. 1,
- Exempt customers participating in supplemental food programs from having to pay for carryout bags;
- Allow retailers to provide protective plastic bags, without handles, intended to segregate produce, raw meat and prescription drugs, for their customers at no cost; and
- Take effect on Jan. 1, 2014
The most common issues raised in opposition of the proposed ordinance were concerns related to the 10-cent and 25-cent cost of reusable bags posing an undue economic impact for consumers and retailers; the perceived negative health impacts of reusable bags (becoming dirty and harboring bacteria such as E. Coli); and the opinion that many people reuse plastic bags to line their trash bins or use them to pick up dog waste, the report noted.
There is also a plastic bag industry group called Save the Plastic Bag Coalition whose membership includes companies and individuals engaged in the manufacture and distribution of plastic carryout bags and polyethylene reusable bags who oppose reusable bag ordinances.
Ginger Rowe, owner of Time Out Clothing, wrote a letter to the Council expressing her concern about having to pay a sales tax on the surcharge for reusable bags.
The State Board of Equalization issued a special notice stating that due to the charge being imposed by the local jurisdiction upon the customer, not the retailer; the charge is not included in the retailer's gross receipts and would not be subject to a sales or use tax.
"If we must charge for bags, how do I account for sales tax and reporting for that? Is that a separate line item to the State Board of Equalization?" Rowe asked. "I have three different size bags, and to say .10 for one and .25 for the other ... I 'm thinking all the customers would then want a big bag, which is very [expensive]."
Rowe is also worried about reusable bags contributing to shoplifting. "When we see people carrying around bags from other towns, we are very suspicious of them .... It makes it very easy to shoplift when carrying large bags, and we have definitely had more than our share of shoplifters in town lately," she said.
ALSO ON LOS GATOS PATCH:
- Supervisor Wasserman Opposes Plastic Bag Ban
- Plastic-Bag Ban EIR Being Drafted
- Letter: Don't Ban Plastic Bags
- Is Los Gatos Closer to Plastic Bag Ban?
- Poll Results: Should Los Gatos Ban Plastic Bags?