Palo Alto becomes latest city to dump plastic bags
The plastic bag is no longer welcome in Palo Alto.
On Monday night, the city council voted 5 0 to extend a pioneering 2009 ban on plastic bags at grocery stores to all retailers even restaurants and to start charging consumers for paper bags.
The decision brings Palo Alto’s ordinance in line with 65 others adopted around the state in the past four years and positions the city as a policy leader once again. While most cities and counties now charge for paper bags, few if any restrict restaurants from using plastic bags.
“It’s clear a convincing case has been made about plastics and the fact they are blight and can end up in many unwanted places,” said Council Member Greg Schmid. “To move more strictly against it makes a lot of sense.”
Some council members were, however, troubled by the potential ramifications of the levy on paper bags. Pat Burt, for one, said he relies on paper bags to line trash cans in his home.
“Different families have different scenarios,” Burt said, “but I don’t think that’s a real obscure one.”
Phil Bobel, the city’s assistant director of public works, admitted the ordinance wasn’t perfect.
“What we’re trying to do is a compromise,” Bobel adidas football boots said. “We’re trying to give you an ordinance that strikes the balance between having Palo Alto being the leader and pushing the envelope out a bit and being consistent with other cities.”
Fees have motivated consumers to switch to reusable bags, according to a city staff report. Communities such as the District of Columbia, Los Angeles County and San Jose have seen a 62 to 94 percent conversion rate depending on the charge and economic demographics of the region.
In the end, the city council approved a 10 cent fee and instructed city staff to return in 18 to 24 months for a review. City staff had recommended moving to a 25 cent fee one year from July 1, the adidas football boots date the ordinance is set to take effect for most retailers.
Restaurants, which won’t have to charge for paper bags, will have to stop using plastic bags on Nov. 1.
The city council encountered some resistance to the tougher ordinance at its meeting Monday.
“We’ve been using cloth reusable bags for years. We didn’t need any incentive. We didn’t need anyone threatening us. We thought it was a good idea. However, three quarters of the people in Palo Alto don’t. So, when you pass this ordinance, a lot of people are going to be upset,” said resident Bob M adidas football boots oss, adding that he uses plastic bags to line his garbage cans.
“If plastic bags are no longer a adidas football boots vailable, we’re going to have to find some way to get an equivalent. It’s a real problem.”
Javier Gonzalez, the California Restaurant Association’s director of local government affairs, also urged council members not to extend the ban to food service establishments. He said reusable bags are not hygienic.
“Cross contamination, food borne illness is a major concern, liability our members do not want to take up,” Gonzalez said.
But of the dozen people who addressed the city council, most urged it to adopt the ordinance.
“Obviously, it’s not perfect,” said staunch environmentalist and former mayor Peter Drekmeier. “But when you think about it, human beings survived for 200,000 years without plastic bags. They’re convenient, but I would say the problems they cause outweigh the benefits.”
Council Member Marc Berman did not participate in the discussion and vote because of an investment he has in a company that makes reusable bags.
Retail businesses on Oct. 1 will no longer being allowed to distribute the bags; customers will be charged 10 cents a bag for recycled paper bags and reusable bags until Dec. 31, 2014.
The city joins a roster of municipalities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties that are adopting or considering the ban passed by supervisors last year.
The ordinance’s second reading will be on March 25, according to Redwood City spokesman Malcolm Smith. The ban would go into force in October in order to give businesses time to comply, Smith said.