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Discouragement of Plastic Bags Now Official

The city approved details of a voluntary plan to reduce plastic bag use on Wednesday.

City staff will encourage local businesses to reduce use of plastic bags and charge customers who do use them under a voluntary program to reduce plastic bag use approved by the council Wednesday night.

The council chose to adopt the voluntary program in October after City Attorney Steve Mattas advised that implementing an outright ban without an environmental impact study could make the city a target for litigation.

“At this time, the vast majority of the municipalities that have moved forward with a plastic bag ordinance have faced legal challenges [from the plastics industry],” said Susan Kennedy, assistant to the city manager.

In the details rolled out Wednesday, the city will encourage retail businesses 5,000 square feet or larger to charge customers 5 or 10 cents for plastic bags and use the money to promote the use of reusable bags. The city will also encourage businesses to provide and sell reusable bags to customers.

City staff will report back on the effectiveness of the program in six months. They will also give an update on ongoing legal challenges to plastic bag bans in case the city decides to implement a ban at some point. Mattas and Kennedy suggested that one way to skirt legal challenges may be to implement a ban through a citizen-sponsored initiative.

Council members said they hoped the voluntary program would cut down on plastic bag litter in Colma Creek.

“I’ve been waiting for this for years,” said Councilmember Karyl Matsumoto.

State of the City

Mayor Kevin Mullin pointed to progress the city has made in sustainability, community police and fiscal discipline in his “State of the City” address at Wednesday’s city council meeting.

He cited energy upgrades, the police department’s new neighborhood response team and successful negotiations with city employees among many other programs as examples of successful programs.

“The city can only thrive with the continued involvement and support of you, its citizens,” he said.

Mullin will give a State of the City Address to the business community on May 24 at 12 p.m. at the South San Francisco Conference Center.

ELEANOR BREITE April 28, 2011 at 07:51 PM
I do have one question on eliminating plastic bags. Presently they are used to put individual items of produce in, ie - the carrots go into one bag, potatoes into another, etc. This then enables the checker to weigh and price the produce. How will this occur without the use of the plastic bags? Thank you for your consideration to this question.
Drew Himmelstein (Editor) April 28, 2011 at 09:46 PM
Good question. In fact, the policy excludes those type of in-store bags you're talking about. Stores are free to continue using those bags for meat, produce, etc., but are encouraged to reduce the use of plastic bags they give customers at checkout.

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