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San Diego Could Revive Ban On Plastic Bags

A plastic shopping bag litters the roadside in Sacramento, Oct. 25, 2013.
Associated Press
A plastic shopping bag litters the roadside in Sacramento, Oct. 25, 2013.

San Diego Could Revive Ban On Plastic Bags
The San Diego City Council on Tuesday is considering a ban on single-use plastic bags. The local ordinance has been on hold for nearly three years, amid an uncertain future for similar legislation statewide.
San Diego Could Revive Ban On Plastic Bags
San Diego Could Revive Ban On Plastic Bags GUEST: Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS

The San Diego City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags, as the future of similar statewide legislation is in doubt.

The ordinance would also require certain retail stores to charge 10 cents each for paper bags. Larger stores would have six months to comply, while smaller stores would have a year.


City staffers first presented a council committee with a draft plastic bag ordinance in October 2013. Council members were enthusiastic and passed the ordinance on to the full City Council.

But the council never voted on the ordinance because at the time nearly identical state legislation was gaining momentum in Sacramento. Despite urging from some environmental groups in mid-2014 to move forward with the local ordinance, the city put its plastic bag ban on hold.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state plastic bag ban into law in September 2014. But a signature-gathering drive funded by the plastic bag industry forced the law to a referendum, which will appear on the November ballot as Proposition 67.

Mario Sierra, director of the city's Environmental Services Department, said even in hindsight, delaying the local ordinance was a wise decision because duplicating state law would have been a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"However, given the fact that we don't have control over the November election, the city made another wise decision to say, 'Well let's go ahead and make sure we have a local ordinance in place in the event that the referendum (fails),'" Sierra said.


'A huge problem'

Similar bans exist in more than 145 cities in California, including in Solana Beach, Del Mar and Encinitas. San Francisco passed the state's first such local ordinance in 2007.

Natalie Roberts, senior director of programming for the environmental nonprofit I Love A Clean San Diego, said her group regularly finds plastic bags on its volunteer trash cleanups.

"Plastic bags have always been a huge problem," she said. "Last year we totaled about 5,300 plastic bags that were found all throughout San Diego County outdoor areas."

Roberts added that after Encinitas passed its plastic bag ban, her group saw the number of plastic bags picked up in that city drop by about half.

Sierra said San Diego's ordinance is consistent with the reuse policies in the city's zero-waste initiative, which is also tied to the Climate Action Plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"We want to see less plastic bags in the landfill," he said. "We want the city landscape to be cleaner. We want our waterways, our creeks, our storm drains not to be polluted with plastic bags. And we want people to continue to think about reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible."

In November, California voters also will decide on another measure funded by plastic bag manufacturers, Proposition 65, that would force the money stores earn from paper bags to be donated to environmental causes. Critics say that measure is a ploy to pit the retail industry, which could otherwise keep the money from paper bag sales, against environmentalists.