The paper or plastic question a hallmark of the modern grocery shopping experience has been all but outlawed in the small coastal town of Solana Beach.
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The City Council decision Wednesday night makes Solana Beach the first in the county to remove single-use plastic bags from grocery stores, retailers and restaurants. Nearly all the citys restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies will have about three months to comply with the new rules.
Environmentalists have long viewed the bags as a scourge on the planet because they take years to break down. Volunteers collect them by the thousands during regional cleanup events. Many beach advocates are hopeful that Wednesdays decision will spark a regional trend and ultimately help force a statewide bag ban.
Solana Beach officials said Wednesday that Councilwoman Lesa Heebner, the citys SANDAG representative will likely take the bag ban issue to the regional board soon.
Im proud ... that were doing this, said Councilman Mike Nichols before the council quickly reached consensus on the ban. I hope that were not the last.
Whether or not that happens, Solana Beach has bolstered its reputation as a green city, a reputation that goes back to at least 1992, when it banned smoking in restaurants, hotels and offices. About a decade later it outlawed smoking on its beaches, the first prohibition of its kind in the continental U.S.
San Francisco helped lead the charge against plastic bags when it outlawed them in 2007, generating copycat ordinances up and down the California coast and in cities nationwide. In Southern California, Laguna Beach, Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica have joined the anti-bag movement.
From our point of view, and for the most part from our residents, the implementation of our ban has been relatively painless even on the side of the stores. They have been very cooperative and compliant, and a lot of them are realizing that this is actually saving them money, said Dean Kubani, sustainability director for Santa Monica.
Kubani said the rules have essentially eliminated the use of 26 million bags a year without a legal challenge since the law took effect last year. While an increase in paper bag use was seen immediately following the ban on plastic bags, residents apparently look to avoid the extra fee.
I have talked to checkers who say that people really dont want to spend 10 cents on a paper bag, Kubani said. Basically, the citys ordinance is training people to bring their own bags.
About 24 billion plastic bags a year are unloaded into landfills in California, and less than 5 percent of single-use bags are recycled, according to Heal the Bay in Santa Monica, a group that advocates for more controls.
Solana Beachs decision Wednesday night also puts in place rules that require stores to charge customers at least 10 cents for each paper bag they use, a move city officials hope will push consumers away from one-time use bags and make it routine for them to bring reusable bags to stores throughout the city, as it seemingly has in Santa Monica.
While proactive enforcement isnt built into the new ordinance, stores found violating it can be charged up to $1,000. To the council, the punishment fits. This is the right thing to do, Councilman Dave Roberts said. When you think about six and a half million single-use bags every year just in Solana Beach ... to me its just astronomical."
Efforts to reach the plastics industry on Wednesday were not successful, but the American Chemistry Council, which represented plastic bag manufacturers, sent a letter to Solana Beach last fall opposing the ban. It urged the City Council to promote plastic bag recycling along with reusable bags, and it raised questions about the legality of a ban.
Its unclear how many local cities will follow Solana Beachs lead. In San Diego city, the issue hasnt gotten much traction and that doesnt appear destined to change soon.
The plastic bag ban is not something thats on our radar, said Kevin Smith, who works for Councilman David Alvarez on natural resource issues. We are focused on other priorities, which include looking at our water-rate system.
At Heal the Bay, water quality director Kirsten James said dozens of bag laws across California are building toward the need for a law to unify the patchwork of approaches. She said about 1 in 6 Californians is covered by some sort of bag-reduction act.
A statewide ban failed a few years ago, but James said the momentum created in places such as Solana Beach show demand is building.
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