Thu04242014

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Council scheduled to discuss plastic-bag ban outreach


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

Los Altos resident Gerald Giusti loads his groceries after a stop at Safeway. A single-use plastic-bag ban takes effect July 4.

According to Los Altos Economic Development Manager Kathy Kleinbaum, implementation of a program to educate residents and merchants about the upcoming plastic-bag ban should appear before the Los Altos City Council Tuesday.

The program would disseminate the conditions of the ban on the distribution of single-use plastic bags by most of the city’s merchants starting July 4. The ordinance, introduced Feb. 26 and adopted by the council last week, affects city retailers selling clothing, food and personal items, as well as their customers.

The council declined to approve a $13,000 appropriation to hire a consultant for community education during the Feb. 26 discussions, calling instead for collaboration between the city and several local groups to publicize the ban.

Kleinbaum met with members of the Los Altos Village Association, the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce and GreenTown Los Altos and merchants from several Los Altos commercial districts to discuss public outreach efforts. Educating residents and merchants about the nuances of the ordinance, she said, is “critical.”

“For merchants, they need time to figure out what portions of their merchandise will work (with the new ordinance) and what won’t work. … Three months is a very short time,” she said. “We’ve got to get a lot done in a very short period of time.”

Kleinbaum referred to specific distinctions in the ordinance, such as the fact that retailers must charge customers at least 10 cents for a single recycled-content paper, reusable plastic or cloth bag, while protective bags for produce and meat and dry-cleaning garment bags are exempt. Retailers will be required to itemize customer-purchased bags on sales receipts and store those transaction records for at least three years. The ordinance exempts restaurants, fast-food establishments and nonprofit resellers.

“It’s not as simple as merchants simply stopping (the use of) plastic bags,” she said.

Kleinbaum recommended using direct-mail notification to Los Altos merchants in addition to notices included in residents’ utility bills to advertise the effects of the ordinance.

The city will develop and distribute a retailer toolkit, Kleinbaum noted, that will include a fact sheet, signage for merchants to post as notification of the ban and a list of recycled-content paper bags and reusable plastic bag suppliers.

In addition, separate forums for merchants and residents will be scheduled to clarify any remaining questions. Volunteers from GreenTown Los Altos may go door-to-door to discuss the details further with merchants. Representatives at an information table at downtown’s weekly Los Altos Farmers’ Market will offer educational materials and respond to questions.

The plan includes the distribution of Los Altos-themed reusable bags to residents, which Kleinbaum suggested could be a marketing opportunity to encourage residents to shop locally.

Kleinbaum expects the outreach program to begin in earnest in April if approved.

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