Once again, the issue of single use shopping bags has come up, this time as the Sonoma County Waste Management Association asked the City Council for their endorsement of a county-wide ordinance to reduce waste, in particular plastic bag waste.
Henry Mikus, the executive director of the SCWMA, and program manager Patrick Carter appeared before the council with a brief presentation explaining the outline of the proposed county program. Last year the agency held a to gain a sense of interest from citizenry in the issue, and found significant interest throughout the county in the issue.
This year, they are approaching the governing bodies of the nine county jurisdictions (incorporated cities and towns) asking for their direction in the Single Use Carryout Bag Ban. Their draft ordinance, still a work-in-progress but one which they hope to finalize and get full county-wide approve of later this year, looks like the following:
A ban would be imposed on plastic carry-out bags at all retail establishments, impose a fee (beginning at 10 cents a bag and rising a year later to 25 cents) for the merchant to provide a paper bag, and allow the merchant to keep the fee to offset the cost of the supplied bag.
Restaurants are not included in the ban, nor are fresh produce or meat packaging. Dry cleaners and such would also be exempt, because they are service businesses and not retail businesses.
The proposal also authorizes the county WMA to impose violation penalties on merchants who violate the rule, with $100 for the first violation, $200 for a second, and $500 for the third and subsequent, if within one year of the initial violation.
There are two methodologies going forward, they said, the first a Regional Ordinance with a single set of requirements applicable county-wide, with the county agency assuming management, enforcement and funding of the motion.
The other option would be a Model ordinance that each individual local jurisdiction to adopt their own standards, based on a county model. This would put the responsibility of requirements, expenses and risk on the city's plate, and run the risk of inconsistent regulations between different jurisdictions.
The Sonoma City Council didn't spent much time to express their support for the Regional Ordinance model, with its advantages of maintenance, enforcement and expense. At present, said Mikus later, only the City of Santa Rosa seems to lean toward having their own set of rules rather that supporting a county-wide standard.
Litigation to the Single Use Bag Ban, said Carter, largely comes from the "Save the Plastic Bag Coalition," which he described as an industry "conglomerate" of plastic bag manufacturers. "They have a vested interest, I guess you would say, in not having these ordinances go through. That's the short of it."
There were several questions and suggestions both from Council and the public that were attentively listened to by the WMA representatives. "It's a draft, and that's why we're here," said Mikus.
, a frequent commenter at City Council meetings, expressed concern that the bagger at the market would try to sell him a bag for 10 cents instead of letting him use his own bag. Or, he continued, if he brought his own bag, the merchant should give him nine cents because he was saving him money.
"Reusable bags are the environmental best solution," Carter pointed out. "There's always the option of putting items back in the cart and pushing the cart out to the car."
City manager Linda Kelly pointed out that the proposed ordinance said "a minimum charge of ten cents per bag," but is should say "a maximum charge of ten cents," to give consumers certainty that they would only be charged ten cents.
A clause that required merchants to give documentation of bags used and sold was questioned by several, including Councilman Steve Barbose, who didn't think it necessary at all.
"The most important thing that we're trying to protect here is that the consumer knows how much they're expected to bay for a paper bag," said Councilmember Laurie Gallian.
"I am whole heartedly in favor of reducing the amount of plastic bags in the world, starting with my community," said Mayor Sanders. "This record keeping and inspection, the coast of the bag - to me, dictating how much a bag costs… I don't know that you can regulate, or should be regulating the cost of bags. I think we're trying to reduce the use of plastic bags, and go from there."
The Council voted 5-0 by show of hands to support the Regional Ordinance model, and urged Mikus and Carter to convey their support for a county-wide solution to the City of Santa Rosa, which has expressed a concern over "loss of sovereignty," according to Mikus.
"You have unanimity from the Sonoma City council, which tends to be notorious for being on the independent side," said Sanders. "So when the big boys in Sonoma County hear that we are on board maybe that might help sway them."
"I want to thank you for having us and giving us the time to discuss this," said Mikus. "And also, to commend you for your strong stance, because that does give us something to talk to others about."
"We also speak on behalf of all the fish right now who are lost in a plastic bag floating around in the sea," said Sanders. "They'll be glad not to have plastic bags to run into as well."