After years of debate over whether to outlaw single-use carry-out plastic bags in Davis, the City Council finally appears eager to stuff away an ordinance into the municipal code.
But while the council soon could sign off on some type of regulation, its last discussion on the matter in June seemed to hint at a desire, at least from some council members, to adopt an ordinance that would apply to every store in Davis, not just a selected few.
If the council approves a citywide ban — or a charge for bags — it would be a significant departure from the ordinance proposed by the city’s Natural Resources Commission, which would exclude smaller businesses and target the city’s most prolific plastic bag distributors: grocery stores and pharmacies.
Those stores hand out more than 90 percent of the single-use bags in Davis, according to city public works staff.
But even with the majority of the bags eliminated, Councilman Brett Lee, who would prefer charging customers for plastic bags rather than banning them outright, says all businesses should be subject to the ordinance.
“I’d rather require all businesses to charge for paper or plastic bags,” Lee said Thursday. “… charge for paper and plastic, give the consumer the choice, but expand the scope of the requirement, not just the larger businesses.”
Mayor Joe Krovoza seems to share the idea that an ordinance should blanket all businesses in Davis.
While the mayor hasn’t yet taken an official position, his main concern stems from the cost of dealing with plastic bags.
“We’re not doing this as a one-off, ‘join the plastic bag ban movement,’ ” Krovoza said. “We’re doing it as part of our comprehensive review of recycling solid wastes management, and that is right in my view.
“Given this concern about efficiently processing our waste stream, the idea that you would exempt what is only 10 percent of the bags in town … raises the prospect of not moving us close enough to the (efficiencies) that we want and the improvements in our waste stream.”
Yolo County landfill staff estimated in 2010 that workers spent more than 1,815 hours picking up litter at the landfill, costing roughly $34,000.
Meanwhile, John Geisler, operations manager for Davis Waste Removal, agreed that plastic bags can be a nuisance, as employees have to sort out the hundreds of plastic bags that show up in the recycling each day and dispose of them. DWR employees also have to track down the bags that float out of the facility.
But contrary to what some have claimed, plastic bags have never jammed up equipment. Geisler said plastic bags are not a huge problem for DWR.
Phase in the law?
In any case, the looming city plastic bag regulation, which the council will consider in the coming months when it returns from summer recess in late August, has grabbed the interest of some in the community.
Business owners who were polled last week about the looming regulation question the fairness of treating smaller operations, which have less manpower to implement the change, the same as larger chain grocery stores.
In the 77 cities across the state where single-use plastic bag regulations have been adopted, the larger stores actually have been mostly agreeable to the restriction, according to a representative of the California Grocers Association, which speaks for more than 80 percent of all grocery stores in California.
And Janis Lott, owner of Newsbeat in downtown Davis, says that unlike those larger grocers, the plastic bag regulation would unfairly saddle her employees with the labor of incorporating the change, which could require stores to count the bags they distribute, supply reusable bags and, perhaps most burdensome, educate customers about the new law.
“Having to explain to the public over and over again about the ordinance (would be difficult for us),” Lott said.
Lott said regardless of the law, she has always encouraged customers to carry home their Newsbeat goods in reusable bags. But she said she would prefer that larger grocery stores implement the ordinance first. Then the city could phase in smaller establishments so they could better prepare their customers.
Dave Heylen, a spokesman for the grocers association, said that while the industry would prefer all businesses to comply with the regulation, it doesn’t object to that approach.
“In these ordinances that have excluded (smaller stores) … we are OK with that, we understand that,” Heylen said.
Both Lee and Krovoza said they could accept phasing in smaller businesses as well, as long as the time frame under which the new stores would be required to comply is reasonable.
Lee also said he wouldn’t want to require stores to count all the bags they sell, or have the revenue generated by the sales be filtered to the city, which likely would leave the city vulnerable to legal problems with the plastic bag industry.
Leaders of the Davis Downtown business association declined to comment as they have not formally taken a position on the issue.
Few need bags
However, even if the council approves a ban or a charge for plastic bags, the regulation may not come as a huge shock to Davis residents. There are signs throughout the city that many Davisites already have made the switch from the plastic bags to reusable totes.
The Davis Food Co-op downtown has never distributed single-use carry-out plastic bags and even provides organic bags for produce — which would not be regulated as part of a single-use plastic bag ordinance. Even Lott said only 5 percent of her Newsbeat customers require the single-use bags.
Jennifer Anderson, president and owner of Davis Ace Hardware, also said customers infrequently ask for any bags.
Additionally, Randii MacNear, manager of the Davis Farmers Market, said the market already has taken steps to reduce the amount of plastic bags its vendors distribute.
Some vendors hand out linen bags and the wicker baskets that are sold on site actually are designed to carry produce without bags. A full shift to a plastic bag ban, however, still would be challenging, MacNear said.
“It’s not going to be easy for us but, philosophically, we’d welcome it,” MacNear said. “… if the city is moving forward with this, we’re going to be a team player, because it reflects our values.”
— Reach Tom Sakash at email@example.com or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash