Starting in 2010, CanDo members worked to educate themselves and local residents about the environmental damage caused by single use plastic bags that get into the environment and waste resources. The Cities of Napa, St. Helena, Calistoga and American Canyon have now passed ordinances as the result of CanDo activities. CanDo members are now encouraging Napa County and the town of Yountville to join the effort.
Information About Plastics
Did you know that little Napa County throws away 51 million plastic bags every year? It’s true. This and other shocking information caused CanDo's Plastics group to initiate the BETTER BAG PROJECT. In the course of our research, we learned about all the harm caused by plastic bags and other throw-away plastics and then we moved on to positive measures each of us can take. Here are our most important recommendations.
Be sure you're using reusable bags instead of plastic for shopping.
~ Grocery bags - Get enough bags together to do your weekly shopping. Make sure they're sturdy so they don't end up in the landfill. Put them all in one bag in your car.
~ Produce bags - Go to the next step. Washable mesh bags for produce are great. Get them at a CanDo table, Whole Foods and Vallergas have them for sale too. Keep one grocery bag in your kitchen and put the produce bags into it as you empty or wash them. If you need occasional plastic, consider using re-purposed bread bags. Grab this grocery bag when you head out the door to the market.
~ Fold-up bags - For the drug or office supply store, keep a fold-up bag in your purse, pocket or glove box.
~ For guys - Real men carry re-usable bags. Take a fold-up bag into the market or home improvement store.
~ Recycling plastic bags - If you have extra plastic bags, take them to the grocery store to be recycled. These are taken to plants where they are actually made into usable products. DO NOT PUT THEM IN YOUR RECYCLE BINS - they jam the machinery.
Article about Plastic Bags in the NV Life Magazine (December/January 2013)
Copy of Insert in October, 2012 Waste Management bill
Common Beliefs About Plastic Bags
- Paper and plastic bags are free now so why should I have to pay? Plastic and paper bags are not free. You are paying for them in the cost of your purchases and your garbage rates and taxes for the cleanup. A Bay Area study found the real cost was about 20 cents per bag.
- Why not charge for plastic bags? In California a charge required by a governement must reflect the actual cost in order to avoid being deemed a "tax". The actual cost paid by the retailer is so low (2-3 cents) that it would not be an effective deterrent. A ban is not prohibited.
- I need plastic bags for pet waste. Only plastic carryout bags would be banned, not produce bags, not bread bags, not newspaper bags, not take out food bags. These other bags could be used for pet waste or pet waste bags can be purchased just like trash bags. Many public parks have dispensers.
- I need plastic bags to line my trash cans. Kitchen and bath trash cans might need a liner although plastic carryout bags are smaller than most kitchen waste baskets. Other rooms in the house may not. If you are old enough to remember before plastic bags were introduced in the 1970s, we lined trash cans with newspaper, or just washed them out if they got messy.
- Reusable bags are unsanitary. Individuals can choose to clean their bags or not. A 2010 study shows that reusable bags have no more bacteria than other items you bring home from the store. Many reusable bags are machine washable. People who have been using the same reusable bags for 30+ years and don't wash them report no problems.
- Enough people are already reusing and repurposing plastic bags. In fact, studies have shown that most plastic bags that get reused are reused only once and then end up in the landfill or polluting the environment.
- A lot of plastic bags are being recycled. State figures show that less than 5% of the bags we use get put into the store recycle bins and actually made into something else.
- Compostable bags would solve the problem. Compostable bags (such as those made from cornstarch) only break down in an active composting process. They do not break down in the natural environment because of the lack of heat, and do not compost in the landfill because there is no oxygen. When local organics composting programs are up and running, we will be able to put wet food waste in them but until then compostable bags are no better than traditional plastic.
- A ban on plastic bags will just force people to buy trash bags. A study in L.A. County showed that the average family will spend just $5.72 per year to purchase plastic bags. Some of us use no plastic carryout bags and spend nothing for trash bags. It is not a burden with just small changes in habits.
- A plastic bag ban will be bad for the economy. California has a large number of reusable bag companies so jobs will increase in this sector according to the Brookings Institution. Many companies that make plastic carry out bags also make reusable bags.
- Why should I give up my freedom to choose what type of bags I want to use? The resources used for plastic bag manufacturing and the litter and the resulting environmental pollution effects everyone and costs us all to clean up.
Remember that an estimated 51 million plastic bags are discarded each year in the County of Napa. This does not count the less than 5% of bags that are put in the store recycle bins and actually made into something else.
There are now over 100 cities or counties throughout California where a single-use bag ordinance has been approved including large cities like San Jose, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Long Beach, and Los Angeles and Santa Clara Counties. Those residents are finding alternatives to single use plastic carryout bags. Napa can do this too.
SINGLE USE BAG ORDINANCE BULLET POINTS
FOR MEETINGS WITH STAKEHOLDERS
FRAMING THE ISSUE
Why do we need a phase-out of single-use plastic carryout bags throughout the County of Napa?
Starting with a conservative statewide estimate of 14 billion plastic bags used annually, that means 51 million plastic bags are discarded annually in Napa County. These end up in landfills, litter the landscape, pollute our river and creeks, kill wildlife and jam the recycling equipment. After the 2012 Better Bag Month bag give-away and education program, a survey showed only a small increase in reusable bag use. But jurisdictions that have instituted a single-use plastic bag ban and that charge for paper bags have seen single-use plastic bag use decrease by 95%, paper bag use decrease by 30% and plastic litter in waterways decrease by 60%. Reusable bag use goes up.
Why not recycle the bags locally?
According to CalRecycle, less than 5% of plastic bags are recycled, in spite of the fact that there are bins at all major grocery stores, large retailers and pharmacies. Local recycling and waste services have to remove plastic bags from the recycling stream since they jam the equipment and result in costly work stoppages to clear the jams. The market for plastic bags is drying up.
Don’t plastic bags biodegrade?
No, they can last hundreds of years in landfills, unless exposed to the sun, which photo-degrades them into smaller and smaller particles. Scientists now find microscopic plastic particles in the world’s oceans and in the tissue of fish that we eat.
Why not switch to paper bags?
Paper bags, although recyclable and biodegradable, have a negative environmental impact. Manufacturing them requires trees as well as large amounts of water and energy, according to the EPA. A charge on paper bags (which is kept by the retailer) has resulted in a significant reduction in paper bag use in other localities.
Why not charge for plastic carryout bags as a disincentive?
A charge has to reflect the actual cost. Since the cost to the retailer is just 2-3 cents per bag, the charge would not serve as a disincentive. State law does not prohibit a charge for paper bags (the actual cost of a paper bag is about 10 cents or more).
How many other jurisdictions in CA have passed a single-use ordinance?
Over 100 as of March, 2014.
THE ADVANTAGES OF A JOINT EFFORT AMONG NAPA COUNTY JURISDICTIONS
- Shoppers throughout the county will know what to expect in all jurisdictions where they shop, and public education and outreach will be more efficient and cost-effective.
- Retailers will have uniform requirements; if they have multiple locations in different jurisdictions they will not need to administer different store-to-store policies.
- No group of retailers or jurisdictions will have a competitive advantage stemming from some still being allowed to distribute plastic bags to consumers.
- Cost sharing on the ordinance and DEQA requirements will save money and time.
WHAT WILL THE CONSEQUENCES BE?
With a public information campaign prior to the implementation date, consumers will have time to acquire reusable bags and get in the habit of taking them into the store. Other jurisdictions where a ban has been implemented have found that, after an initial period, consumers get used to it and many feel good about more sustainable practices.
- As long as all retailers have the same requirements, there will not be a benefit to any one store.
- Most corporate chain stores are complying with bag ordinances in other localities.
- Retailers will recover their costs for providing bags since the pass-through charge (the charge for a paper bag) remains with the retailer.
- The phase-in schedule can allow retailers more time to use existing bag stock.
EXPECTED SUPPORT AND OPPOSITION
Local supporters include:
~ Napa Downtown Association
~ Visit Napa Valley (the destination council)
~ Napa Sierra Club
~ Friends of the Napa River
~ Sustainable Napa County
~ Napa-Solano Audubon Society
~ Thrive Napa Valley
~ Wildlife Rescue Center
Opposition to the ban has come from:
~ Save the Plastic Bag Coalition (a lobbying group for plastic bag producers)
~ Lawsuits have challenged how other jurisdictions have approached CEQA compliance, but through these challenges jurisdictions have learned how to better shape the components and language of their Ordinances, thus many lawsuits have failed to sway the Courts.