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By Robyn Thaw                                        Follow East Palo Alto Today on
Sunday, April 21, 2013                     Facebook    Twitter         Blog    
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NASA photo of the planet earth
Image Credit: NASA/NOAA/GSFC/Suomi NPP/VIIRS/Norman Kuring
A Blue Marble image of the earth.


On Earth Day, April 22, 2013, the San Mateo County Reusable Bag Ordinance will launch, requiring that County retailers no longer provide customers with plastic carry-out bags. On that day, San Mateo County joins other cities and counties that encourage the use of reusable bags, promoting healthier environments for citizens through the decreased use of single-use plastic bags.                             

Researchers have well-documented the harmful impact to our environment and wildlife caused by single-use plastic bags. Plastic never biodegrades; instead it breaks down into smaller particles that seep into our soil and water. This “bag ban” is the result of sobering news that in California, 20 billion single-use plastic grocery bags are used every year, which end up in landfills, or as litter on land and in water. 

“We are well aware that there are many on either side of this issue who feel passionately about banning single-use plastic bags in San Mateo County,” said Dean Peterson, County Health System Director of Environmental Health.  “While there will likely be growing pains associated with the extermination of this harmful product from our County, I think everyone can agree that the long-term benefit of a cleaner, safer, and frankly existent environment where future families and children can enjoy the natural beauty of San Mateo County, is a more than reasonable tradeoff.”

The ban will apply to all County retail outlets, including grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and other shops. It does not apply to plastic bags used for restaurant food take-outs or for produce, meats, bulk foods and prescription medicines.  Shop owners are encouraged return any unused plastic bags to their vendors for repurposing and/or refund.

If retail customers do not bring a reusable bag, the retailer will charge them 10-cents per paper bag until Jan. 1, 2015, after which a 25-cent per bag charge may apply.  Shoppers using reusable bags are encouraged to practice “healthy bag habits” that include washing reusable bags regularly to remove bacteria and other potential food contaminants.  Other recommendations for bag safety can be found on the San Mateo County Health System website at http://smchealth.org/BagBan


Robyn Thaw is with the San Mateo County Health System.