Paper or Plastic?
By Elisa Forsgren
Paper or plastic? A common question one considers after goods are bought, but how consumers will carry their goods home has become one of debate recently in San Rafael.
City council and more than a dozen enthusiastic San Rafael residents were in attendance for a special study session on Monday to support council to move forward on an ordinance to ban single use plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.
“Plastic bags are one of the major contaminants in our neighborhoods, in our canals, in our oceans,” said Joe Feria, 16, member of the Canal Youth Concilio, a group that actively cleans San Rafael canal each month.
Yes, the trash is a problem not exclusive to San Rafael but it’s a serious impact on our marine wildlife. David McGuire, a marine scientist in the bay area, that plastic is often mistaken for food by marine animals
, “80 percent of turtles and 40 percent of birds have plastics in their gut.”
In order to solve a problem the source needs must be located. In two hours cleaning along the creek leading to the canal, 20 large bags were stuff with the greatest plastic bags according to Feria.
Bag ban ordinances are not big news in California since they’ve been considered and implemented for several years and roughly 19 jour have already passed ordinances. The main aim is to cut environmental harm through less Greenhouse Gas emissions and less waste, which often becomes litter.
The worst offender: the single use plastic bag.
Easy enough, remove the choice and it’s paper from here on out.
But wait, not so fast. Paper costs the retailer far more than a plastic bag, about $.10 paper to $.01 plastic. If the ordinance passed, a consumer would be charged at least $.05 for a recycled paper bag and the retailer keeps the money.
In 2006, the State of California passed AB 2449, which required grocery stores to have plastic bag recycling receptacles, but precluded the city to need a fee for distribution of plastic bags.
Lawsuits for bag bans typically relate to California Environmental Quality Act compliance and are occasionally challenged. Marin County stepped up to the plate and passed an ordinance to ban the bag in Jan. 2011 based on a categorical exemption to CEQA, which asserts that the ordinance did not need environmental review based on a CEQA exemption.
A report that will ultimately cost the city money. A city can’t just pull an Environmental Impact Report off another city or draft off the county since the numbers do change. Alameda just splurged $80,000 on an EIR according to . Ouch, that hurt.
Queue the people who love to file lawsuits.
Bring in the plastic bag activists, yes, there’s an activist for everything. Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which formed in 2008, claims the anti-plastic bag campaign is “largely based on myths, misinformation and exaggerations.”
The coalition brought a lawsuit against the county must follow the requirements of the CEQA and do an EIR before instituting the ban. Last Sept., Superior Court Judge Lynn Duryee decided that the county’s ban was appropriate.
The coalition has appealed, however the county was able to move ahead based on the first ruling and the ordinance went into practice on Jan. 1, 2012. The coalition maintains, “Paper and compostable bags are significantly worse for the environment than plastic bags.”
“The driver for a good policy should not be the fear of being sued, let alone by the plastics industry,” said Damon Connolly, council member.
“It’s time to get it done. We’ll support you. Bring on the lawsuits,” said Barry Toronto, a San Rafael resident.
Paper bag impact on the environment is the short-term, once people get used to bringing their own bags and charging for the paper will significantly improve. Los Angeles and Long Beach bag ban have shown that 25 percent of their consumers brought their own reusable bag before the ban, now 75 percent bring a bag or don’t take one at all according to Cory Bytof, sustainability and volunteer program coordinator for San Rafael.
“There are real habits that so many of us need to change,” Marc Levine council member said.
Actually the reusable bags last longer and cloth bags can be washed. Besides with the business logo displayed on the bag that’s used over and over, that’s free advertising to a lot of potential eyeballs.
“I’m a bag lady,” said Elissa Giambastiani, local task force EPA and hazardous waste management. “I have about 14 bags that I drag with me all the time,” she brings them into major department stores when she needs to buy something and tells the clerk, “I don’t need their piece of plastic, thank you.”
“We can all take ownership of this problem,” McGuire said.
“As much as we’re concerned about wildlife, I’m very concerned about the downstream impacts of the use of plastic bags,” said Levine. “The wake up call was when I had kids and I realized we’ve got to find a way to hide all these bags,” he added.
“I’ve been given all kinds of anecdotal reasons why a plastic bag ban would be absolutely abhorrent to some people,” Andrew McCullough council member said. “I get the example: how do I clean up after my dog?”
“Anyone want to talk about a dog problem talk to me,” Barbara Heller council member said.
Richard Kalish, San Rafael chamber of commerce board chairman, was in favor of the ordinance but asked council members to consider the businesses affected.
“There are two principles we’d like to ask the council to keep in mind: to understand and mitigate the impact on businesses and to understand and mitigate the impact on consumers,” Kalish said.
Perhaps the bigger picture is missed considering the report conducted by the county found that last year, “128 million bags in Marin County alone. That’s a staggering number,” Mayor Gary Phillips said referring to a city council staff report.
A number that is worth a long look considering the life of a plastic bag survives humans by 900 years.
The ordinance “doesn’t have to be perfect either but we’re going to get there and we’re on the right path,” said Levine.
All council members agreed to move forward, “but I want to do it in a smart way,” Phillips said.