The push for paper: California lawmakers look to statewide plastic bag ban as Encinitas approves its own

Encinitas%27+ban+on+plastic+bags%2C+which+will+be+phased+in+starting+this+spring%2C+is+more+stringent+than+the+statewide+ban+expected+to+soon+be+signed+by+Gov.+Jerry+Brown.

Encinitas’ ban on plastic bags, which will be phased in starting this spring, is more stringent than the statewide ban expected to soon be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sandy Coronilla

Plastic bags, your days are numbered.

That’s the message the Encinitas City Council sent last month when it banned single-use plastic bags. The ordinance, which will be phased in starting this spring, is even more stringent than the statewide ban signed Sept. 30 by Gov. Jerry Brown. (Story updated Oct. 1)

Encinitas Councilwoman Teresa Barth said she voted for the ban “because it was the right thing to do for the environment and will help reduce the city’s cost for litter/trash and storm drain cleanup.”

City governments throughout California seem to agree with her. As of July 1, 84 municipal ordinances regulating the use of single-use plastic bags have been adopted in California, including that of neighbor Solana Beach, which became the first city in San Diego to ban the bags in 2012.

First statewide ban

A week after the Encinitas vote, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 270, the first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, despite major pushback from plastic bag manufacturers whose bottom line will suffer as more bans are enacted.

The bill was modified to include $2 million in loans to help the manufacturers shift from producing single-use to reusable plastic bags, an attempt that hardly pacified the industry.

Los Angeles bag manufacturer Crown Poly argues that if the bag ban trend continues, American plastics manufacturing jobs are at risk.

“Most thin-film plastic bags are made in the United States,” according to Crown Poly’s website. “By contrast most reusable bags are imported.”

Ban-charge model

In Encinitas and statewide, shoppers will be charged at least 10 cents to use a paper bag.

Both SB 270 and the new ordinance in Encinitas include a provision requiring a fee be paid by any shopper who wishes to use a single-use paper bag, referred to by proponents of the ban as a “ban-charge” model.

It works as a disincentive: Shoppers will still be allowed to use paper bags but at their own cost. Most people will not want to pay for something they used to get for free so they’ll instead buy reusable bags.

Laura Peralta of the California Grocers Association wrote to the Encinitas council ahead of the Aug. 20 vote to support its plastic bag ban-charge model. She said grocers have experienced large cost increases in cities that banned single-use plastic but didn’t charge a fee for the more costly single-use paper bags.

“Without regulating all single-use carryout bags, consumers are not encouraged to use reusable bags and instead simply switch from one type of single-use bag to another single-use bag which provides no environmental benefit and increases operational costs for retailers,” she said.

However, the ban-charge model doesn’t sit well with everyone.

One opponent of the ban, identified only as “Michele” in a City Council document, wrote to Barth that “the ban is an anti-consumer move that enriches the grocery industry.”

To quell similar concerns, SB 270 authors included a provision requiring that funds from paper bag sales only be used to buy more recycled paper bags or to educate consumers about the program.

But Encinitas’ ordinance has no such provision, and doesn’t specify how retailers must spend the monies collected from paper bag fees.

Encinitas versus statewide ban

How businesses spend paper bag fees isn’t the only difference between the two laws.

The Encinitas ban will apply to more stores, relatively, than the statewide ban.

That’s a good thing, said Roger Kube of the local chapter of Surfrider Foundation.

“The Encinitas ordinance applies to plastic checkout bags at all retail stores and farmers markets,” Kube wrote in an email, whereas “S.B. 270 will apply to grocery, drug, convenience and liquor stores, but doesn’t apply to retail clothing, Home Depot, etc.”

The all-encompassing Encinitas ban will also be phased in faster than the statewide ban.

  • March 10, 2015: The Encinitas ordinance will go into effect at large grocery stores. It will affect an estimated 80 retail establishments and city facilities.
  • Sept. 10, 2015: It will apply to all other retail stores and farmers markets. An additional 220 stores will be affected.

Now signed by Brown, the statewide ban will be phased in over the course of two years.

  • July 1, 2015: The statewide ban will go into effect at retail stores with $2 million in gross annual sales that sell only certain items or that have at least 10,000 square feet of retail floor space.
  • July 1, 2016: The law will expand to include convenience stores and those that hold alcoholic beverage licenses.

Kube said the Encinitas ban is stronger than the statewide ban and will result in less plastic pollution in marine environments.

Existing single-use plastic ban ordinances, such as the ones in Encinitas and Solana Beach, will be grandfathered, Kube said. But cities will not be allowed to place further restrictions on stores that are already subject to the statewide ban.

“That being said, if a local jurisdiction wants to pass an ordinance that applies to all the retail stores that aren’t covered by S.B. 270, they can do that,” Kube wrote.

Sandy Coronilla is a San Diego freelance writer