The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted to ban the free distribution of single-use, plastic carry-out bags at retail outlets throughout San Mateo County. In voting for the ban 5 to 0, the supervisors were unanimously casting their votes to protect the environment in what they hoped would be the beginning of a regional wide effort.
The new law will phase out the use of plastic bags by retailers in unincorporated areas of the county by April 22, 2013. The supervisors thought that this gradual phase out would give stores and consumers time to comply with the new law and to locate reusable bags.
“We’re going to devote time and energy over the coming months to reach out to consumers and businesses, educating them about the environmental benefits of the ordinance and giving them time to adjust,” said Board President Adrienne J. Tissier, who co-sponsored the ordinance along with Supervisor Carole Groom.
During their meeting this past Tuesday, the supervisors also approved an environmental impact report that might serve as a model for the 24 cities in San Mateo County to use in drafting their own ordinances to ban plastic bags. The environmental report found that a staggering 552 million plastic bags are used annually throughout the cities and in the unincorporated area of San Mateo County.
It was noted that plastic bags blow in the wind, clog creeks and streams and litter the environment, creating a major regional problem.
“We’re eliminating more than 500 million plastic bags annually, to the benefit of the San Francisco Bay, our local rivers and creeks, and local wildlife,” Supervisor Groom said.
Starting April 22, 2013, shoppers requesting a paper bag would be charged a minimum of 10 cents per bag until Dec. 31, 2014, and 25 cents per paper bag starting Jan. 1, 2015. The ordinance is expected to cut down the use of disposable plastic bags by 95 percent.
Environmental groups testified during a public hearing that plastic bags pose a serious environmental threat and they later praised the board’s new law. It was also argued that the reduction in the number of plastic bags in circulation would also save taxpayer dollars that will no longer need to be spent collecting the litter that plastic bags present.
Dean Peterson, the director of environmental health for San Mateo County, praised the board of supervisors for taking a significant step to protect local neighborhoods, wildlife, bay and oceans. Peterson said, “A simple commitment to bring our own bag whenever we shop will have positive effects that extend well beyond our County’s borders.”
Restaurants were exempted from the new county law, as were non-profit organizations with retail outlets.
Grocery retailers will still be able to distribute small plastic bags that customers can use to take vegetables, fruit, meats and pharmaceuticals to check out. Customers participating in certain programs for low-income residents may be provided a reusable bag at no charge.
The environmental impact report, presented to the board, found that 20 billion plastic bags are used annually in California with less than 10 percent of those being recycled.
Eighteen cities in San Mateo County participated in the environmental impact report. They were: Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, South San Francisco and Woodside. The six cities in Santa Clara County -- Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Milpitas and Mountain View – also participated in the report.
Eric Pawlowsky, from Supervisor Carole Groom's Office and Marshall Wilson who is the communications director for San Mateo County contributed the information used in this article
The author of this article, Henrietta J. Burroughs, can be contacted by email at email@example.com.