Thursday, April 24, 2014

Plastic bag discussion picking up

From page A1 | August 04, 2013 | 7 Comments

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 or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @TomSakash

Tom Sakash

Tom Sakash covers the city beat for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at, (530) 747-8057 or @TomSakash.

Discussion | 7 comments

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  • Rich RifkinAugust 04, 2013 - 2:31 pm

    Meanwhile, there is still no evidence that in Davis there is a problem with plastic grocery bags. As such, banning them or forcing stores to charge money is a solution in search of a problem.

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  • Jerry HobrechtAugust 05, 2013 - 12:51 pm

    The implication that Davisites infrequently request single-use bags is refuted by my experience. Seldom have I seen persons using their own bags when shopping. Second, I have always recycled single-use plastic bags by returning them to the recycle bins where I shop. It's the responsible thing to do. If there was a way to include plastic bags in our recycling toters (like we can with paper bags), so much the better. Third, I would prefer a deposit to a ban, which would encourage more recycling, particularly if the deposit is returned in full to the shopper.

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  • Mark MurrayAugust 05, 2013 - 3:05 pm

    Next time we have a windy day, I encourage you to take a ride out to the Yolo County Landfill and then tell me whether you think plastic bags pose a problem. You will see literally hundreds of plastic bags blowing off the face of the landfill. Despite the 20 foot fencing and the round the clock effort of two landfill employees, these bags blow all over the county.

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  • Rich RifkinAugust 05, 2013 - 3:36 pm

    Mark: "Next time we have a windy day, I encourage you to take a ride out to the Yolo County Landfill and then tell me whether you think plastic bags pose a problem." ...... Mark, once or twice every week, I bicycle from Road 102 to Road 105 on Road 28H (or the reverse course), past the landfill facility. That includes windy days. ...... "You will see literally hundreds of plastic bags blowing off the face of the landfill." ....... No plastic bags of any sort are blowing outside the confines of the facility that I have ever seen, even when the north wind is howling. ...... "Despite the 20 foot fencing and the round the clock effort of two landfill employees, these bags blow all over the county." ...... If you want to join me on a bike ride on my way to Sacramento, I'll gladly point out the trash along Road 28H. There is some hard plastic, but not grocery bags. There is also usually cardboard, wood, metal, glass, fast-food packaging and other sorts of detritus. After Alan Proyor of the NRC started promoting the story that Road 28H was awash in plastic grocery bags, I started looking for them specifically. I have seen a few there--at most a half dozen in a year--but as a share of the waste on 28H outside the landfill, plastic grocery bags by volume are less than 1% and much less than that by weight or volume. ...... Again, we do not have any problem in Davis with plastic grocery bags. If we really had a problem--such as we had with aluminum cans and beer bottles in Davis in the 1970s--I would support a modest recycling tax, such as the state imposes on cans and bottles. But we do not have a problem. None.

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  • Mark MurrayAugust 05, 2013 - 6:37 pm

    Rich, I sincerely appreciate the invitation to join you for a ride out there. I'll post some of the photos and video at that I and others have taken on recent trips out there.

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  • Emily GalloAugust 05, 2013 - 6:31 pm

    I have a condo in Carpinteria where all (plastic and paper) bags are banned from all stores - it takes a short while ( one time when you have to buy a bag to get your purchases home will do it!) to get used to and then it's easy and appropriate.

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  • Rich RifkinAugust 06, 2013 - 4:08 pm

    It might make sense to ban plastic bags in Carpinteria. It is right on the coast--not too far from UCSB, where I was an undergrad--and there is a problem with plastic waste in the ocean (though very little of the plastic in the ocean is from grocery bags--it's almost all detritus from fishing vessels). It's completely different for statewide activists and lobbyists like Mark Murray's group to impose their feel-good dictate on inland cities like Davis where there is no problem and where, if a bag gets away, never would reach a river or ocean.

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