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Bag-ban plan wends its way through public approval process


Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier

Plastic bags like the ones shoppers receive at local grocery stores could be outlawed if Los Altos approves a bag ban.

Los Altos shoppers may have no choice but to use their own shopping bags within two years if local cities vote to outlaw markets’ use of paper and plastic bags.

Like other cities in the Bay Area and around the country, Los Altos is moving toward a green transition to reduce landfill waste by eliminating or significantly reducing single-use paper and plastic bags.

Lobbyists and supporters of plastic bags have delayed the inevitable by suing to force cities to conduct environmental impact reports (EIR) before enacting the ban.

Los Altos is among 24 cities, including Mountain View, partnering with San Mateo County on a collective EIR. The San Mateo County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider approval of a final EIR at today’s commission meeting. Barring unforeseen obstacles in the process, the EIR heads to the Board of Supervisors Oct. 23 for approval.

“At that point, our city can move forward and set specific parameters and dates for an ordinance here,” said Joe Eyre, member of the Los Altos Environmental Commission. “We could enact an ordinance anytime between the EIR completion date and July 1, 2014, which is the date they committed to the (San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control) Board to have a ban in place in order to cut down on trash in streams.”

In January, the Town Crier reported that the water board was pushing for Bay Area cities, including Los Altos, to adopt trash-reducing measures as a condition for granting a Municipal Regional Permit. The EIR under consideration addresses a ban of plastic single-use bags at supermarkets, but not at small retail stores. It also would allow plastic bags used to cover meats or for takeout food at local restaurants. Markets and retail stores could make paper bags available at a cost of 10 cents per bag. Sunnyvale already has a plastic-bag ban in place.

According to the San Mateo Health System, approximately 20 billion plastic bags are distributed annually across the state. Most of them are not recycled – they end up clogging landfills and littering landscapes or bodies of water.

“Researchers have well documented the harmful impact to our environment and wildlife caused by one-use plastic bags,” the Health System reports on its website (smchealth.org). “Plastic never biodegrades, instead it breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that seep into our soil and water. Paper bags aren’t much better. While recycling has helped, a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that only 4.3 percent of bags end up being recycled, and a single-use paper bag has an even larger greenhouse gas emission than plastic bags.”

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