Pack it up, plastic bags. Your time is through.
With a unanimous vote Tuesday, the Davis City Council directed staff to bring back an ordinance that would prohibit all retail businesses in Davis from handing out single-use carry-out plastic bags from their stores, a move that likely will bring to an end to the debate swirling throughout the community for the past few years over the wayward litter.
The ordinance, which also would regulate paper bags in Davis by imposing a 10-cent charge on them, will not become law until the council approves the final language.
Public works staff estimate they’ll present the ordinance to the council this fall, with an approximate implementation date of July 2014.
The council could have let some businesses in town off the hook Tuesday by picking a version of the ordinance that would have excluded smaller retail stores or restaurants, but in the end, council members felt it was most fair to have the law apply to every business in Davis.
If the council sticks to adopting an ordinance that would ban the single-use plastic bags from all retail stores, 475 businesses will be affected.
“The large retail option captures those 44 businesses, which is roughly 80 percent of the bags,” said Councilman Lucas Frerichs. “That’s great, (but) I personally think that it should be applied across the board if we’re going to do it at all.”
The ordinance would not ban produce bags that are commonly used by consumers to handle produce and meat products.
Further, Mayor Joe Krovoza added a friendly amendment to the approved motion that staff look into adding a charge on thicker plastic bags, which technically are deemed reusable.
As for when the ordinance would be implemented, Alan Pryor, a member of the city’s Natural Resources Commission, urged the council Tuesday to ask that the ordinance come back at their next meeting.
“We’ve really spent over three years hashing through this; it’s time to get it done,” Pryor said.
But the council made no changes to the schedule staff had proposed.
Earlier in the day, meanwhile, the Davis Chamber of Commerce sent out its position on the issue urging that the city “stop all work on this topic” altogether, at least until the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown pass a state law.
“We do not believe that precious city resources should continue to be wasted on this topic,” the Chamber statement said.
More than $30,000 has been spent on the issue so far, according to Pryor.
But the majority of those who spoke during public comment Tuesday, save one small business owner and several other Davis residents, were in favor of the regulation.
Members of the UC Davis chapter of CalPIRG, who have come before the council several times over the past year to urge the city’s policy makers to join the growing movement in California of halting the distribution of plastic bags, again came out in full force to back the ban.
“We’ve fallen way behind,” said Donna Farvard, chair of CalPIRG on campus. “When we first started this campaign, it was about 10 to 15 cities and counties that have (passed a regulation) and I think it’s about time that Davis stepped up and did it as well.”
More than 80 jurisdictions across the state have adopted some type of regulation of plastic bags.
Advocates for the plastic bag ordinance have cited on numerous occasions the difficulties the Yolo County Landfill has had with plastic bags.
In 2010, the landfill spent about $34,000 picking up plastic bags, representing about 1,815 man-hours.
But while Councilwoman Rochelle Swanson voted for the ordinance, she did point out that it’s not just Davis that sends trash to the dump.
“If we want to reduce, then let’s talk about what’s going on in the county landfill and not just target our community, but really let’s figure out where these are coming from and (which) communities are bringing them in,” Swanson said.
Davis produces about one-fifth of the landfill’s trash, according to Jacques DeBra, the city’s public utilities manager.
Councilman Brett Lee also eventually voted to approve the plastic bag ban in Davis, but consistent with previous remarks on the issue, he first made a motion that would have set a charge on both paper and plastic bags for all retail stores — other than the 44 larger grocery stores — rather than outlawing one or the other entirely.
For the larger stores, he would have stuck with the ban, per the recommendation of the city’s Natural Resources Commission.
“I don’t like the fact that, in general, paper bags seem to get off scot-free on this,” Lee said. “Paper bags are quite costly to the environment to produce.”
Lee did not receive a second to his motion, however.
One of the problems with charging for plastic bags is that the charges are set based on the cost to produce the bag, according to Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, who was in attendance Tuesday.
Because it costs only about 1 cent to produce a plastic bag, if the council approved a 10-cent charge, for example, it could become a profit center for the retailers.
Krovoza later asked Murray if, as a result of this type of ordinance, the use of paper bags increased in cities that have adopted it.
Murray said in unincorporated Los Angeles County and in San Jose, each of which has adopted a similar ordinance and studied the trend of paper bags, the amount of paper bags used went down even with a charge.
“Los Angeles (saw a) 65 percent reduction in paper, so 95 percent overall reduction in single-use bags,” Murray said.
— Reach Tom Sakash at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash