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Ban on Plastic & Paper Throw-away Bags Under Spotlight

The long-discussed "plastic bag ban" for West Contra Costa County cities, including Pinole, appears to be picking up steam with a formal public comment period now under way. Throw-away paper bags also would be banned.

Ban on Plastic & Paper Throw-away Bags Under Spotlight

Pinole and the other cities in West Contra Costa County have launched a formal review period for a proposed "plastic bag ban," which would apply also to throw-away paper bags.

The cities have been working with RecycleMore, the waste management agency for West Contra Costa, to jointly develop a model ordinance for the ban, which would be considered by each jurisdiction for adoption. The county is involved too since the law could apply to unincorporated areas of west county.

The effort could receive a lukewarm response from the Pinole City Council, which declined to be an active partner in drafting a regional ordinance a year ago. Pinole Councilman Pete Murray to participate in the developing the ordinance, but his motion died for a lack of a second vote in support. Other council members said they wanted more information before supporting the idea of an ordinance.

The law would prohibit any retailer, except restaurants and non-profit charitable organizations that sell used goods, from providing a single-use plastic or paper bag at the "point of sale" (cash register) for taking items from the business.

The ban would not apply to bags used to transport items inside the business, such as bags used by manufacturers to package goods or bags provided in the produce section of grocery stores for customers to carry produce to the check-out stand.

An exception would allow "recycled paper bags" to be issued at the check-out stand if such bags are not made from old-growth trees, contain at least 40-percent recycled material and are 100-percent recyclable. The merchant would be required to charge at least 5 cents for such bags or for reusable bags. Two years after the ordinance is adopted the retailer can make the recycled paper bags available for a minimum of 10 cents a bag.

Offering recycled paper bags or reusable bags to customers to carry goods out of the store would be required, not an option. Customers on low-income government assistance programs would not be charged.

The customer receipt would have to show the number of recycled paper bags provided and the amount charged for them. And retailers would be required annually to report to the city manager (or designee) the number of recycled paper bags provided, the amount collected for such bags and a summary of efforts to promote reusable bags. 

Enforcement would be up the city managers (or designees) of each city. A violation would first trigger a warning, with subsequent violations subject to fines that could reach $500 per day.

"The proposed ordinance is intended to facilitate and encourage the widespread use of reusable bags – bags that can be used multiple times, not once or twice and then discarded," according to a RecycleMore study of the proposed ordinance.

The RecycleMore study, known formally as an "Initial Study," is the first stage of required environmental review mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act. The study, which includes the draft ordinance in the appendix, is attached to this article.

As part of the environmental review process, RecycleMore also announced its intent to adopt a "Negative Declaration," which means that the Initial Study found that no adverse environmental impacts would be caused by the ordinance and that an Environmental Impact Report is unnecessary. The notice of intended Negative Declaration also is attached to this article.

RecycleMore is required to submit the proposed Negative Declaration and Initial Study for public review and a 30-day comment period. The comment period began Aug. 6 and ends Sept. 5. The agency will also hold two public hearings during the comment period:

  • Hercules Public Library, 109 Civic Dr., Aug. 15, 6:30 p.m.
  • Richmond City Council Chambers, 440 Civic Center Plaza, Aug. 28, 5:30 p.m.

Recyclemore said its board will also hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance and that prior to adoption each jurisdiction would do the same. The member cities are El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole, Richmond and San Pablo, in additon to Contra Costa County.

The 165-page Initial Study includes extensive information about the threats to wildlife and the environment caused by discarded plastic bags. It also discusses the costs of throw-away paper bags, including the loss of trees and environmental toll of their production and even the process of recycling them.

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