Clerk Lars Cederquist helps shopper Sunny Shine bag her groceries in reusable cloth bags at the Davis Food Co-op. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise Photo

Agriculture + Environment

Locals say nix the plastic, carry cloth

By February 26, 2011

Paper or plastic? When it comes down to it, a group of Davis locals hope those options will soon be a thing of the past, as more and more people make a habit of using cloth bags.

To start, however, the city’s Natural Resources Commission on Monday will consider a city ordinance banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags for shopping. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Chambers, City Hall, 23 Russell Blvd.

Markets and retailers would no longer stock plastic bags beginning Jan. 1, 2012, under the ordinance, which needs City Council approval to go into effect. They would be required to offer free or for-sale reusable bags, or charge customers 25 cents a pop for paper bags.

There are exceptions to the rule. Restaurants are exempt, paper bag fees would be waived for those who cannot afford to buy cloth bags, and plastic bags may still be used for purposes other than bagging groceries and retail goods.

The Davis Enterprise, for example, would be able to bag newspapers on rainy days as usual, said Michael Siminitus, who helped draft the ordinance.

Siminitus is a member of the Natural Resources Commission’s Zero-Waste Committee, which

identified the elimination of plastic bags as one of its five goals for 2011.

He said the idea is to “empower” people to bring their own reusable totes for packing up their goods when they shop.

It’s good for the environment and it’s good for business, too, he said.

Disposable bags are part of a business’ expenses and the consumers pay for it in the price of goods, said Elaine Fingerett, one of the organizers of the plastic bag ban campaign.

By eliminating that cost, businesses could make higher profits, lower their prices and even find creative ways to brand themselves in the design of their reusable totes, Fingerett said.

Fingerett has been using cloth bags for the past decade or so to do her part in reducing the environmental impact of plastic bags. As the second most common piece of litter in the ocean (the first is cigarette butts), plastic bags are responsible for the deaths of marine animals and birds who eat them or get entangled in them.

There are huge, documented masses of trash in the ocean made up primarily of plastic shopping bags, she said.

“Plastic breaks down into little pieces of plastic; it doesn’t degrade,” she said, and it is a huge problem with a simple solution. “It takes a consciousness of the problem and a willingness to take a small step to change our own behavior.”

Eric Stromberg, general manager of the Davis Food Co-op, said his store has never offered plastic bags as an option. Most customers bring their own bags and paper bags are available, he said.

On average, customers use 650 paper bags a day — equivalent to a tree a day, he said.

Independent of the plastic bag ban effort, the Co-op will begin charging 5 cents for each paper bag starting on Earth Day, April 22, he said. The goal is reduce waste by following Oregon’s Ashland Food Co-op’s example of charging for paper bags, which led to an 85 percent decline in that store’s distribution of paper bags, he said.

Many small businesses downtown also have already eliminated plastic bags from their stores.

Barbara Silver, co-owner of Sweet Potato Pie, a consignment store for children’s clothes, said she likes the idea of getting rid of paper bags, too, although she is uncomfortable with charging customers for them.

Speaking as a consumer, however, Silver said, getting rung up for 25 cents a bag “would certainly encourage me to bring my own bags to do grocery shopping.”

Davis Downtown Business Association co-president Michael Bisch said he personally favors reducing, if not banning, plastic bag use. While Bisch said he has not researched the topic nor can he speak on behalf of the DDBA, his “gut response” is the ordinance would be positive for the community.

“Sustainability is something that I believe very strongly about in all aspects and I just don’t see how it’s sustainable to continue to pollute the environment with plastic bags, especially when there’s readily available alternatives,” Bisch said.

Fingerett agrees that the reasons to ditch plastic bags stack up powerfully.

She encourages supporters to write letters to The Davis Enterprise and City Council, speak during public comment at city meetings, talk about it with friends and family, use cloth bags when shopping and give them as gifts, and join the Facebook group, “Ban the Plastic Bag —Davis.”

She also recommends a visit to UC Davis’ Walker Hall, across from the Shields Library, to see “Bags Across the Globe,” an exhibit by UCD Associate Professor of Design Ann Savageau. The exhibit, which ends March 11, includes a tornado installation made of more than 1,000 plastic bags, the estimated number used by Californians each year.

Fingerett said she hopes ground-up efforts to ban plastic bags in cities eventually will lead to a statewide ban.

San Francisco was the first California city to ban plastic bags in March 2007, followed by Manhattan Beach, Malibu, Oakland, Fairfax, Palo Alto, San Jose, Calabasas and Santa Monica. Los Angeles County also passed a ban in 2010 and Marin County in 2011.

— Reach Crystal Lee at [email protected] or (530) 747-8057. Comment on this story at www.davisenterprisecom

Crystal Lee

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