San Diego Eyeing Ban on Plastic Bags

A move to stop supermarkets and drugstores from offering customers plastic carryout  bags is making its way through San Diego's City Hall.

Several California cities already have banned the bags, despite legal action from the grocery and plastics industries.

Studies show the average Californian is given more than 500 of these "single-use" bags a year.

And, that billions wind up littering the landscape, waterways and oceans.

San Diego is now looking at promoting a switch to paper, and -- ultimately -- reusable cloth bags.

There'd be no choice of 'paper or plastic' under the proposed San Diego ordinance, modeled after laws in San Francisco, Malibu and Manhattan Beach.

Plastic carryouts would be off-limits at big supermarkets and chain drugstores --  whose lobbyists argue that cities should do more to promote recycling the bags, not just ban them.

But backers of the measure say only 4 percent of plastic bags get recycled, because it just doesn't pay.

"It costs $4,000 to process and recycle one ton of plastic bags, which can then be sold on the commodities market for $32," Coronado resident Barbara Denny told the Council's Natural Resources & Culture Committee at a hearing Wednesday.  "So it's just really not a solution."  

At that same hearing, industry representatives warned that a plastics ban would create a run on paper bags -- for which the stores likely would begin charging customers.

"On the surface it may not sound that bad," said Matthew Dodson, governmental relations director for the California Grocers Assn.  "But when you look at the technology and processes that are used to produce single-use paper bags, there are fairly dramatic and negative impacts."

And that brings the argument around to cloth bags -- whose use is growing, and encouraged by nickel discounts from a lot of supermarkets.

Are shoppers ready to make that switch?

"My sense is, 30 percent of the people jump on board right away; another 30-40 percent are waiting for everybody else to come on," says Richard Anthony, an activist with Zero Waste San Diego.

"And then we'll deal with the recalcitrants,"  Anthony said in an interview.  "But I think it as to happen.  We don't have enough stuff on this planet, and it's getting worse.  And we have to change the way we do things."

The Council committee referred the measure to the City Attorney's office for analysis and a report to the full council in 90 days.

Meantime, other cities around the county are looking at varying approaches to the problem -- knowing that industry lawyers are 'on call' to take them to court.

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