Palo Alto passes plastic bag ban

March 17, 2009 1:34:40 PM PDT
Palo Alto's grocery stores have six months to phase out the use of plastic bags under a ban approved by the City Council Monday night.

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The council voted 7-1 to prohibit dispensing the bags at grocery store checkout counters.

Phil Bobel, manager of the city's environmental compliance division, said the issue has been under discussion for a year.

"The main reason for restricting plastic bags is their persistence in the environment," he said. The bags "blow and migrate" easily, making proper disposal difficult, he said.

Bobel also cited environmental concerns.

"They have an impact on marine animals and the ecosystem in general as they persist there for a long time," he said.

A secondary motivation, Bobel said, is the energy and resources that go into making bags, whether paper or plastic, that consumers will use only once.

The ban takes effect Sept. 18 and will only affect four of Palo Alto's seven grocery stores: Mollie Stone's, Safeway, JJ&F and Andronico's Market. Bobel said Whole Foods, Piazza's and Country Sun grocery stores already use exclusively paper bags.

Drugstores, convenience stores and other shops are not affected by the ban. However at Monday night's meeting, council members asked staff to examine two potential expansions of the plastic bag ban; broadening it to include other retail stores, and imposing a fee on paper bags.

Bobel said city staff conducted a series of meetings with local storeowners in recent months, including groceries and pharmacies.

"They're not wild about the whole thing," he said.

He said the consensus among the groups was the desire to promote reusable bags rather than crack down on the use of plastic bags.

"They think we should equally discourage both (paper and plastic) if we're going to discourage something," he said.

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