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Voluntary Plastic Bag Ban: Nine Months In

Not many local businesses are taking it upon themselves to charge customers for plastic and paper bags, but they might have to start in a few months.

South San Francisco is nine months into a voluntary plastic bag ban that city council put into effect last year for large businesses . So far, most South City businesses haven’t taken to it, but the ban could become mandatory this October.  

The current voluntary ban encourages local businesses to reduce the use of plastic bags and to charge a small fee to customers who do use them.

Council member Karyl Matsumoto said the voluntary ban is to ease consumers and businesses into the scenario. Yet she hasn’t seen a huge decrease in single-use bags, which include paper or plastic.

CVS at South Spruce, Walgreens at Country Club Drive, and both Safeways still handout paper and plastic bags free of charge.

When council members implemented the voluntary ban last fall, they were hoping to make its mandatory by this spring. But San Mateo County officials requested that the city wait until a countywide ban could be put in place.

If the county presents a satisfactory ordinance in October, South City’s council will likely adopt the ban. But if the county’s ordinance is not ready to be put to a vote, South San Francisco officials will take the matter into their own hands, council member Karyl Matsumoto told Patch.

“Make no mistake, we are moving with it,” Matsumoto said. “I believe there are five votes on the council [to support it].”

The mandatory ban would require businesses of approximately 5,000 sq ft or more to charge a fee, likely to be around ten cents, for single-use bags. The ban would not target small businesses that do not have a significant impact on bag use.

The benefit of waiting to be part of the countywide ordinance would be a more consistent enforcement policy.

Litigation from plastic industry representatives is one concern in enacting this kind of ordinance. Other cities that have implemented similar bans have faced lawsuits.

“There’s no point in moving forward if we’re going to get sued,” Matsumoto said. But, she said, city staff is following legal battles in order to avoid that scenario in South City.

Matsumoto compared the single-use bag prohibition to the 2008 citywide ban on Styrofoam use by vendors selling food for direct consumption.

Twenty-four cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, including South City, are ready to participate in the county's ordinance. The bans’ environmental impact report is currently open for public comment, and will be closed Aug. 6. A list of locations to obtain a copy of the draft EIR is here.

In April, Patch to gauge support of a plastic bag ban. Thirty-six percent said no, 26% yes, and 12% said they supported the voluntary ban. Let us know in the comments section here whether you feel the same way, and also whether you think the city should wait for the county's ordinance, or take the matter in their own hands.

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Pat FitzPatrick July 27, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Everyone should learn how to spell Councilwoman Matsumoto's name
Taylor Wiles July 27, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Much appreciated, Pat.
Monica July 27, 2012 at 11:40 PM
We do not want this ban SSF council. Please listen to ALL of us.
Peggy Deras July 27, 2012 at 11:45 PM
I support the ban.
Thurston October 19, 2012 at 06:42 AM
Why do people put up with an intrusive nanny government trying to control their lives? How about an ice cream ban? Ice cream is high in saturated fat and sugar. Heart disease and diabetes! Think of how many lives could be saved if ice cream were banned. Forget the bag ban,ban ice cream! BTW one can buy plastic bags on Amazon. I have 10,000 stocked up.

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