The Davis Natural Resources Commission waved goodbye Monday night to single-use carry-out plastic bags.
By a vote of 4-2, the commission voted to endorse a draft ordinance that — if ratified by the City Council in August — would ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags at all grocery stores, pharmacies, liquor stores and convenience stores. Those retail outlets distribute the majority of plastic bags in Davis.
The ordinance, which would take effect Jan. 1, also would require stores to charge 10 cents for paper bags to encourage customers to bring reusable bags from home.
Smaller businesses would not be affected, as by definition, “applicable stores” include only those that have gross annual sales of $2 million or more; those that sell a line of canned goods, dry groceries and perishable foods; and those that are “convenient food stores, food marts or other entities which sell canned good, dry groceries and perishable food.”
The ordinance also includes stores over 10,000 square feet of retail space that have a pharmacy and those with a license to sell alcoholic beverages.
The reason for the detailed definitions, according to city conservation coordinator Jennifer Gilbert, is to make sure all businesses that sell any type of groceries in Davis are included. The city of Davis could be vulnerable to lawsuits if it created unfair circumstances for competing stores.
Recently, a Superior Court judge denied a legal challenge by a plastic bag manufacturer in South Carolina who sued Los Angeles County for implementing a similar plastic bag ban. The manufacturer sued on the grounds that the ban was unconstitutional because stores were collecting the money from the paper bags as a tax.
But the judge ruled that the money collected is not a tax because retailers keep all of the money collected to offset the costs of the paper bags they buy.
While a handful of Davis residents spoke at the meeting to support the ordinance, several downtown business owners attended as well to express a worry that, with a slight tweak, the ordinance could be changed to include their businesses.
“In the downtown, it’s a lot of impulse buying. People go out to have a great dinner and they pop in my store and they’re not thinking of packing their (reusable) bags when they go to dinner,” said Janis Lott, owner of Newsbeat, 514 Third St.
Stewart Savage, director of the Davis Downtown Business Association, also relayed the concerns of several other business owners in Davis.
“We would rather see the commission lean toward reduction (of plastic bags through) education, (rather) than implementing an ordinance,” Savage said. “We see that by creating an ordinance, it puts Davis at an unfair disadvantage in the county and also in the region when it comes to shopping.
“We may get the reputation of being the green place to shop, but also the reputation where it’s difficult for people to shop.”
Savage also mentioned that Davis contributes only about 22 percent of the garbage dumped in the Yolo County Landfill, and of that 22 percent, 40 percent is made up of plastic bags.
According to the staff report, however, plastic bags make up 50 to 60 percent of the litter at the landfill.
Several NRC members did worry about a requirement that the affected stores keep track of the paper bags they buy and sell. They felt the task would be an unnecessary burden on business owners.
Gilbert said, however, that such data are needed to determine if the ordinance is working properly or not. If the city sees a spike in paper bag usage, it would signify that customers are not using reusable bags and that they are only switching to paper.
To address further concerns as the ordinance moves forward, in the coming months city staff will meet with the Chamber of Commerce and Davis Downtown Business Association, host local business roundtables/workshops to share information, gather direct feedback from the business community and host community meetings to gather direct feedback from consumers.
Meanwhile, the UC Davis Bookstore already has put restrictions on the distribution of single-use carry-out plastic bags. The store charges customers 25 cents per plastic bag, which has driven down use over the past few months by 80 percent, data show. The store hopes to completely discontinue plastic bags sometime this year.
A total of 42 cities and counties in California have passed similar ordinances.
For more information, visit the city’s carryout bag web page at http://cityofdavis.org/pw/NRC/bags.cfm.
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or (530) 747-8057. Follow him on Twitter @TomSakash