Two Words: Plastic Bags
Carmel Planning Commission says boo to a ban, but Mayor Burnett isn’t dropping it.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
A quotable scene in The Graduate includes the advice, “There’s a great future in plastics.” But that was 1967. Forty-five years later the material is ubiquitous, and activists are working to conscript it to history.
The city of Monterey banned single-use plastic bags last November, and Watsonville followed in April. Numerous other California jurisdictions – including Santa Cruz County, San Jose and San Francisco – have similar bans.
The cities of Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pacific Grove were initially poised to join Monterey, then hesitated. The P.G. City Council voted to first feel out the business community’s willingness for a ban. Environmental Services Manager Sarah Hardgrave says a survey should be completed next month, followed by a public meeting: “That’s all I have direction from the council to do at this point.”
In Carmel, a feisty public hearing May 9 brought out both enviros pushing for a ban and business owners worried it would restrict use of their custom-made paper shopping bags. Planning and Building Services Manager Sean Conroy says the written comments were overwhelmingly in favor of a ban.
Under Carmel’s draft ordinance, a small fee would be levied on paper bags of at least 40-percent recycled content. Retailers would be required to charge at least $0.10, eventually increasing to $0.25, per paper bag.
The commission recommended that the City Council not adopt a formal ban, but rather look at developing a voluntary program to phase out plastic bags.
But Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett says he still intends to put the ban on the council’s June 5 agenda, and is open to revisions eliminating the fee on paper.
“Most of the concerns were with respect to the charge on paper bags. Few, if any, were opposed to the ban on single-use plastic bags. Those are the bags you see on the beach and blowing around and caught up in trees,” he says. “How do we pursue a ban on plastic bags while not doing something unintended for paper bags?”
The charge on paper bags is a legal precaution, he adds: Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, representing plastic-bag manufacturers, has sued other cities attempting plastic bag bans, arguing that the resulting increase in paper bag use has environmental costs. But last summer, the California Supreme Court ruled that jurisdictions don’t need to do expensive environmental impact reports to ban plastic bags. For cities like Carmel, however, a built-in fee on paper is viewed as insurance against litigation.
Burnett might be willing to drop the fee and take that risk. “I doubt that [the plastics industry] would be stupid enough to engage our community in a legal battle,” he says. “We are the nation’s center of marine research, and I would hope that they would recognize that.”
The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has taken a position against single-use plastic bags, and the Old Monterey Business Association prohibits them at its farmers markets. But environmental nonprofits working for a statewide ban have been unable to muscle a bill through Sacramento.
Local bans on take-out expanded polystyrene likewise got off to a slow start, but now cover virtually all of Monterey County.
For more Weekly coverage of the plastic pushback, visit www.mcweekly.com/plastic