San Diego may soon ban the use of plastic bags at grocery stores

The City Council's Rules and Economic Development
Committee on Wednesday unanimously directed staff to develop an ordinance to ban the
use of plastic bags at grocery stores and other retail outlets in the city of
San Diego.

Nearby Solana Beach is among nearly 80 cities in California, including
Los Angeles and West Hollywood, that prohibit or restrict plastic bags, which
are considered a threat to the environment. The city of Encinitas is also
developing a plastic bag ordinance.

San Diego's proposed ordinance would ban plastic bags in supermarkets,
large stores that sell food, plus drug, convenience, hardware and clothing

The proposal would also require stores to charge customers 10 cents per
paper bag used as an alternative but exempt restaurants, nonprofits, food stamp
recipients, and produce and meat products. The city would provide for
distribution of reusable bags and public education.

“San Diego is poised to become one of the largest cities to take such a
positive step towards bettering our environment,” said committee Chairwoman
Sherri Lightner. “This is about protecting our ocean, our canyons, our
waterways and landfills.”

She said residents also need to learn better habits, because they don't
return plastic bags to stores for recycling and frequently leave their reusable
bags in their car trunks when they shop.

The committee asked the mayor's office to conduct outreach efforts with
environmental groups and businesses that would be affected by an ordinance, and
for the City Attorney's Office to draft a law.

“We need to know what new regulations may cost our local businesses,
who have struggled for years in a tough economy,” Councilman Mark Kersey said.

“We must solicit input from a broad group of stakeholders and address
their needs as part of any ordinance process,” Kersey said. “Those
stakeholders should include environmental experts — whom we heard this
morning, consumer advocates, trade groups and business owners who would be
impacted by this proposed ban.”

Representatives of a couple of industry groups told committee members
that they hadn't heard about the proposed ban until a few days ago.

Sarah Paulson Sheehy, of the California Grocers Association, said her
organization was “comfortable” with a prohibition on the bags, but asked for
a law that included all retailers and was consistent with regulations in other

She said in places where the restrictions were in effect, reusable bags
were brought in by more than 90 percent of customers within six months of

Interim Mayor Todd Gloria said he supports banning plastic bags.

“Plastic bags cause environmental damage that can be avoided with the
ordinance being considered,” he said. “Our neighborhoods, our beaches, our
waterways, our landfills and our overall environment will benefit from fewer
plastic bags. I will work with city staff to develop an effective ordinance.”

San Diego's Environmental Service Department spent $160,000 in the most
recent fiscal year cleaning up plastic bags, especially ones that float around
the Miramar Landfill when caught up in the breeze.

Environmentalists contend that plastic bags are a major category of
debris found on beaches, watersheds and oceans, where some marine mammals and
birds try to consume them.

Staff will return with an update on their progress at a committee
meeting scheduled for Oct. 23.

Categories: KUSI