Ordinances banning plastic bags are expected on the agendas of a growing number of California communities now that the state Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Manhattan Beach and its 2008 plastic bag ban.
The ruling said Manhattan Beach did not have to go through a lengthy environmental study on the increased use of paper bags. Manhattan Beach was one of the first communities in California to ban plastic bags in an effort to reduce the amount of plastic trash in the coastal and marine environment.
“A lot of cities were watching this case,” said David Carmany, city manager for Manhattan Beach. “Since the ruling was issued, we have been hearing from everybody, from cities north and south asking for a copy of our ordinance and a copy of our staff report. We're only too happy to share those things with Dana Point and San Carlos and every place in between.”
Carol Misseldine, director of Green Cities California, said the state Supreme Court's ruling is another example of the groundswell of momentum for banning single-use items.
“It's very positive news,” she said. “We don't know exactly how all of this will play out but it seems fairly clear that the ruling will open the door to a lot more plastic bag bans throughout the state and hopefully throughout the country.”
The ruling also sends a clear message to the plastics industry that it can't use the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires state and local agencies to identify the environmental impacts of their actions, to delay the implementation of these single-bag ban ordinances, Misseldine said.
“The threat of litigation stops a lot of jurisdictions,” she said. “In this age of tight budgets, nobody wants to take that on, so people have been watching this very closely, definitely a ruling in our favor.”
There are 24 communities with plastic-bag bans in the United States — more than half of them in California. In addition, Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md., have a 5-cent tax on carryout plastic and paper bags.
Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said his organization found that about 12 percent of the population of California is covered by a city or county that has a ban.
“We are going to see a lot of policies introduced this summer and early fall, so I think by the first of the year, easily 25 percent, maybe more, of the state is going to have a ban on single-use plastic,” he said. “With this Supreme Court ruling, the fear of litigation, the potential cost of having to do an environmental review — for a vast majority of cities and counties in California — is off the table, so I think you're going to see a lot of local communities moving forward.”
San Rafael, Novato, San Anselmo, Sausalito, Mill Valley, Tiburon and the counties of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo are in the process of moving forward plastic bag bans. Alameda County has commissioned a formal environmental impact report looking at both mandatory recycling and single-use bag reduction.
Recycle More, also known as the West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority — which represents the cities of El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo, also is discussing the adoption of a plastic bag ban.
Chris Lehon, executive director of San Pablo-based Recycle More, said his organization's board is working on a second draft of its model ordinance that would ban single-use bags and put a fee on paper bags. It will be presented at its September meeting.
Jeff Becerra, communications manager for StopWaste.org, which encompasses Alameda County Waste Management Authority and the Alameda County Source Reduction and Recycling Board, said the organization is in the process of compiling an EIR to consider a potential single-use bag ban that could be adopted countywide, covering 1.5 million people.
Santa Cruz is dusting off its single-use bag ordinance that has been shelved in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, said Bob Nelson, Santa Cruz superintendent of resource recovery.
“We have been working on this ordinance for more than three years,” Nelson said, adding that the ordinance is a joint endeavor among the city and county of Santa Cruz, as well as Capitola, Scotts Valley and Watsonville — all of which sit on Monterey Bay.
“We decided that it would behoove us all to wait and see what the results of that case were, because there are two things you don't want to have happen in a recovering economy: You don't want to spend the money on something you don't really think you need to, like an EIR, and you also don't want to spend it on a lawsuit,” he said.
Nelson plans to sit down with the mayor and city council in early August to get the ordinance back on the agenda.
Manhattan Beach's ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1, but the city's first order of business is to begin a dialogue with its business community. Helen Duncan, president and CEO of Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce, said her organization fully supports the ban as does most of the business community.
“We sent out a survey and 78 percent of our businesses were in favor,” Duncan said.
Local citizens and the elected officials throughout California are highly motivated to do the right thing, said Dan Jacobsen, legislative director for Environment California of Los Angeles.
“They know that using something for five minutes that ends up polluting our environment for 500 years is really bad,” he said.
Murray agreed: “It's inevitable that we are going to see the end of single-use plastic bags in our lifetime.”