Santa Cruz, Calif., has banned single-use plastic carryout bags and expanded its existing ban on polystyrene takeout products, as the number of bans adopted this year on plastic bags continues to snowball.
The Santa Cruz plastic bag ban — approved unanimously July 10 — comes on the heels of bans that were passed in Port Townsend, Wash., earlier this month; and in Corvallis, Ore., and Issaquah, Wash., last month.
That increases the number of cities that have adopted plastic bag bans this year to 42, and the total number of plastic bag bans in the U.S. to 79 — nearly two-thirds of them in California.
In addition, Los Angeles — the nation's second-largest city, with a population of 4 million — is set to join that group. Two other communities — Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md. — have fees on plastic bags handed out at carryout.
Plastic bag bans are now in place in three of the 14 largest and five of the 29 largest cities in the United States — San Francisco, San Jose, Austin, Seattle and Portland. The nation's fourth-largest city, Houston, is currently considering a bag-ban proposal.
Also weighing a decision on plastic bags is Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who has a petition urging him not to sign a bill that passed in the Legislature earlier this summer that would mandate plastic bag recycling and bar all cities in the state except Chicago from banning plastic carryout bags.
“Santa Cruz City Council showed great environmental leadership with the votes yesterday,” said Sue Vang, a policy associate who focuses on plastic bag and plastic pollution issues for Californians Against Waste, based in Sacramento. “It will join 50 other California communities in banning plastic bags and will adopt one of the most progressive foam bans in the state.”
“Every year, the state spends $334 million on plastic bag-related costs,” said Vang. “Recycling isn't a cost-effective or viable solution for either plastic bags or foam products.”
In banning both compostable and non-compostable plastic bags, Santa Cruz noted the city spends $90,000 annually processing plastic bags, and has a recycling rate for all plastic film, not just bags, of only 5 percent compared to a 65 percent recycling rate for paper bags.
The city said its Santa Cruz resource recovery facility was able to sell 64 tons of recovered plastic film at an average cost of $77 per ton in 2010, but the direct staff costs of recovering the properly prepared plastic film and removing contaminated film was nearly six times higher, or an estimated $433 per day.
The city added that five of the 26 workers on the daily work crew at the facility are “tasked with removing plastic from the different recycling sort lines.”
“Much of this plastic material is improperly prepared for recycling and results in contamination on the paper and cardboard lines [and] wrap[s] around the bearings and shafts of the material separator,” said the city. “The equipment must be stopped and the bags removed before they cause permanent damage.”
The city also said the Santa Cruz-based marine conservation non-profit Save Our Shores presented data to the city that SOS volunteers had removed 19,080 plastic bags in 395 beach, river, and inland cleanups conducted in the coastal regions of Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Monterey County from June 2007 to March 2010.
“Unchecked, this material would have likely entered the marine environment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary,” the city said.
Mark Daniels, chairman of the Washington-based American Progressive Bag Alliance, criticized the bag ban.
“Policies to ban and tax plastic bags will have an immediate negative impact on the wallets of shoppers and, ironically, the environment. As a result of this ban and tax, Santa Cruz residents will now be forced to pay a tax or purchase reusable bags which cannot be recycled, are predominately imported from China and have been proven to harbor dangerous bacteria,” he said in an emailed statement.
“Plastic bag bans also negatively impact the thousands of Californians who depend on jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector; we intend to continue to protect their jobs.
“This policy of taxing bags is far from resolved and is still being considered in the California courts; in the meantime, those interested in real solutions to reducing litter and protecting the environment should pursue scientifically sound, common-sense policies,” Daniels said.
The Santa Cruz plastic bag ban, which must be approved again at a July 24 council meeting to become official, is set to go into effect nine months after final approval.
The ban will apply to all retail establishments except restaurants. It also requires retailers to charge 10 cents for each paper bag handed out, and allows them to retain the money collected for the paper bags to offset the costs of implementing the program.
Plastic bags used to bag produce, bulk goods, fresh meat, fish poultry, vegetables and wet items are exempt from the Santa Cruz ban, as are bags used for greeting cards and pharmacy items.
The Santa Cruz PS ordinance amends a law the city passed in 2007 that had banned PS use in takeout packaging and required takeout containers to be biodegradable, compostable or recyclable. The amended ban, which will go into effect 30 days after the final vote, will be one of the most extensive in the U.S.
In addition to takeout packaging and containers, the ban will now include PS coolers, egg cartons, clamshells, plates, cups, lids, straws, knives, spoons, forks, meat trays, ice chests, pool or beach toys, shipping containers and loose-fill packaging.
The Port Townsend plastic bag ban, approved at a second reading July 2, is the seventh in the state of Washington. It will go into effect Nov. 2. Like many other plastic bag bans in the U.S., it exempts plastic bags used to wrap meat, produce and bulk items and also exempts plastic dry cleaning bags and plastic newspaper bags.
The Corvallis ban, approved June 18 and adopted after a second vote July 2, is the second in Oregon. It exempts restaurants and bars, and does not apply to pharmacy plastic prescription bags or bags used to wrap meat, produce and bulk foods items.
The Corvallis ban, scheduled to go into effect in mid-December for retailers with more than 50 employees, also requires retailers to charge 5 cents for paper bags. Smaller retailers will have an additional six months to comply.
The Issaquah ban was approved June 4 and is scheduled to go into effect March 1, 2013, for large retailers with 7,500 square feet of space or more, and a year after that for smaller retailers.
However, a group called Save Our Choice, headed by Seattle resident Craig Keller, has launched a petition drive to have a November vote on the ban. Keller's similar petition drive in Seattle failed to overturn that city's plastic bag ban.