Palo Alto, Calif., is rethinking its plastic bag ban after a court last month overturned one in nearby Oakland. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, the Sturbridge, Mass., town council recently shot down a bag ban proposal at its annual meeting.
Just 11 days after the court decision, Palo Alto City Council agreed April 28 to establish a task force to explore alternatives to a ban.
The city's Department of Environmental Compliance will review the task force's findings and make its recommendations in early August. The council is likely to address the issue again in September, said Brad Eggleston, manager of Environmental Control Programs for Palo Alto.
A ban on single-use plastic bags is still possible, as is a per-bag fee on single-use paper bags, he said. ``We'd like to promote reusable bags,'' Eggleston said.
The city pulled back its proposed prohibition because Safeway Inc., Walgreen Co., Longs Drugs, the California Grocers Association, the Arlington, Va.-based American Chemistry Council and others were concerned that a ban would lead to a shift to paper bags and increase the retailers' costs, he said.
The Sturbridge ban was written by two Tantasqua Regional High School students and supported by the board of selectmen. It would have barred the use of plastic bags in stores of 35,000 square feet or more. Three stores - Shaw's Supermarkets, Stop & Shop Supermarket and Wal-Mart - would have been covered under the ban. The measure was defeated overwhelmingly by a voice vote April 29, according to town clerk Lorraine Murawski.
Back in Palo Alto, city attorney Gary Baum advised the council that the city will need a more complete environmental report than the one it previously prepared, because of the April 17 ruling by Alameda County Superior Judge Frank Roesch.
In that decision, Roesch said Oakland needed to conduct a further environmental review because there was ``substantial evidence'' to support an argument that single-use paper bags are more environmentally damaging than plastic bags.
Eggleston said Palo Alto is discussing options to deal with the environmental and litter problems related to single-use carryout bags. ``We are looking at incentives for using reusable bags, public education, training of store personnel, giveaways of reusable bags and a per-bag fee for single-use paper bags.''
He said there would be no tax or fee on plastic bags because a California bag recycling law prohibits a fee on plastic carryout bags.
Plastics News correspondent Frank Antosiewicz contributed to this report.