SAN DIEGO - A ban on plastic shopping bags was tentatively approved by the San Diego City Council 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," said Kristin Kuhn of San Diego Coastkeeper. "During especially high rainfall events, these bags are pushed out of our inland environments straight to the ocean or bay."
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 enactment for pharmacy and grocery retail locations, and a one-year grace period for all others.
The measure provides for outreach and education by the city's Environmental Services Department and the development of a program designed to secure sponsorships from local organizations and businesses to provide reusable bags to low-income families.
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," Sierra said. "The city will continue to encourage all San Diegans to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible."
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.