Group discusses bag ban alternatives

ENCINITAS — The Environmental Commission held a public meeting on Feb. 3 aimed at updating the local business community on the status of the city’s single-use plastic bag ban ordinance that has yet to go into effect.
In a surprising 3-2 vote, City Council voted Sept. 10, 2008, to direct staff to draft an ordinance banning plastic bags. Councilman James Bond joined then-Deputy Mayor Maggie Houlihan and Councilwoman Teresa Barth in supporting a phased-in process to eliminate the use of all point-of-purchase single-use plastic shopping bags within the city.
However, the city was targeted along with several other municipalities by a San Francisco group called “Save the Plastic Bag” in an effort to prohibit the enactment of the ordinance. The city received a notice of intent to litigate from Attorney Stephen L. Joseph on Sept. 17, 2009.
While keeping an eye on the outcome of similar lawsuits, Jacy Bolden, the city’s Environmental Commission Coordinator, said public outreach efforts are working. “We had a ‘day without a bag’ as well as several other education events and have been working closely with grocers and other businesses to gather their input on the ordinance,” she said before the meeting. “This is another way to reach out to businesses.”
“I was happy to see the number of community members as well as the business community participating,” Barth said. “I think we’ve taken the right approach to educate and partner with our businesses.”
Representatives from Target, Cardiff Seaside Market, California Grocers Association, American Chemistry Council, Surfrider, Coastkeeper and Solana Center for Recycling joined residents, environmental commission members and city staff to get up to speed on the current legal decisions and discuss what efforts outside of enacting an ordinance can be effective in increasing reusable bags.
John Najjar, owner of Cardiff Seaside Market, said retailers are always interested in ways to decrease packaging. He addressed three main topics at the meeting — providing reusable bags, getting shoppers to use them and using them correctly. “The biggest issue that retailers have is that there are plenty of reusable bags but people aren’t using them,” Najjar said.
Elizabeth Taylor, chair of the Environmental Advisory Commission, said the ongoing outreach efforts have yielded positive feedback. “I think we had some great ideas come out of the meeting.”
Attendees also discussed the possibility of imposing a fee for single-use bags. This year, after Washington, D.C., began charging shoppers for single-use bags, the district saw a dramatic increase in the use of reusable bags. “I think charging for bags is definitely a way to encourage people to bring their bags,” Taylor said.
“Everyone’s on board with the concept (of using reusable bags),” she said. “But those who bring their bags are effectively subsidizing those who don’t. I think it’s an issue of fairness.”
Najjar said he is opposed to authorizing any kind of fee for single-use bags. “I think we can solve this problem without a mandate (for fees),” he said. “We’d like to do as much as possible to educate our customers and help promote remembering to use the bags.”
Larry Seinz, a shopper at Henry’s, said he has several reusable bags but doesn’t always use them. “I get halfway through with shopping and it hits me that I left the bags in the car,” he said. “I guess it’s just not a habit yet, I still have to make myself think about bringing the bags into the store.”
Grocers are using signage at their doors to remind shoppers to bring reusable bags and financial incentives to reward those who do. “Get your kids to help you remember,” Barth said, recalling one of the suggestions during the meeting.
“Besides the positive impact on the environment, bringing a bag will save you some dough in the long run,” Najjar said.
Taylor said the commission is open to suggestions from the community. “If anyone wants to give us their feedback we’d love to hear it.”
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