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San Diego OKs Plastic Bag Ban

Photo caption:

Photo by Takoma Park / Flickr

A brown plastic bag on grass, July 14, 2014.

The ordinance banning single-use plastic bags from most grocery and drugs stores was passed 6-3. Environmental groups praised the ordinance as an important step toward reducing waste in landfills.

San Diego OKs Plastic Bag Ban


Roger Kube, advisory committee member, Surfrider Foundation San Diego County chapter


The San Diego City Council approved a ban on plastic shopping bags Tuesday, making it the 150th jurisdiction in the state of California to pass such a law.

The Single-Use Carryout Bag Reduction Ordinance was passed 6-3, with Councilmen Scott Sherman, Mark Kersey and Chris Cate casting the dissenting votes.

"San Diego can now take a leadership role in limiting plastic bag use and reducing plastic pollution," Council President Sherri Lightner said. "As we can see from other cities, the benefits are real, and it can be done without burdening our businesses or our most vulnerable residents."

More than 20 community members urged the council to approve the ban. There were only two speakers against the ordinance.

"The vast majority of plastic bags we see are entangled in the brushes next to our rivers and streams. After every rain event, these bags clog and choke our city's already damaged waterways," Kristin Kuhn of San Diego Coastkeeper said. "During especially high rainfall events, these bags are pushed out of our inland environments straight to the ocean or bay."

A City Council committee first heard the plastic bag ordinance in the fall of 2013. The committee asked the measure to be forwarded to the full City Council, but Mayor Kevin Faulconer's office put it on hold to avoid duplicating state legislation that was gaining ground at the time. That legislation passed, but was forced to a referendum by a signature-gathering drive funded by plastic bag manufacturers. It will appear as Proposition 67 on the November ballot.

Roger Kube, a volunteer with the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, said passing the local ban earlier would have given the city more authority to amend or expand the ordinance.

"We really lost control of our own destiny a couple years ago when the mayor's office decided to wait for the state bag ban to pass," Kube said at a press conference prior to the city council vote. "However at the same time we're certainly excited to see this being voted on today. If the state bag ban doesn't go through in November at the ballot box, we'll still have a bag ordinance."

Reducing waste

The ordinance is intended to help reduce the estimated 700 million single-use plastic bags that are distributed in San Diego each year. Around 3 percent of the plastic bags used each year in California are being recycled.

"I think us doing this now doesn't really solve anything and it doesn't really accomplish anything," Kersey said, referring to a statewide plastic bag ban proposition that is expected to pass in November.

The city's plastic bag reduction ordinance includes a ban on all single-use carryout plastic bags at select point-of-sale retail locations; a 10-cent charge for paper bags; exemptions for restaurants, newspaper delivery and bags for transporting produce, meat, poultry, dry-cleaning or laundry; and exemptions for those participating in the California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children.

Nonprofit vendors are exempt for the first year. There's a six-month grace period before enforcement for pharmacy and grocery retail locations, and a one-year grace period for all others.

If approved on second reading in two weeks, the ordinance would go into effect 30 to 40 days later.

"We want to see fewer plastic bags in the landfill(s), as well as a cleaner landscape citywide," Mario Sierra, director of the city's environmental services department, said in his presentation to the council. "This includes making sure our waterways, our creeks and storm drains are not polluted with plastic bags."

Groups supporting the ordinance include the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, California Grocers Association, Californians Against Waste, Environment California, Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Coastkeeper, the League of Women Voters of San Diego, Sierra Club of San Diego, Plastic Pollution Coalition, Equinox Project, Ocean Beach Town Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and Save Our Shores.


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