Oakland plastic bag ordinance delayed

January 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
An ordinance banning plastic bags was scheduled to take effect in Oakland today, but the City Council has delayed enforcing the measure until after a Jan. 29 hearing on a lawsuit challenging the legality of the ban.

The new law was passed by the City Council July 17 and aims to ban the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags at retail stores that gross more than $1 million a year.

It would require such stores to supply shoppers with compostable plastic sacks or paper bags that are 100 percent recyclable and contain at least 40 percent recycled material.

After the city runs an education and awareness campaign, violators of the ordinance could be fined $500.

In a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court shortly after the ordinance was passed, a group called the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling alleges that the city didn't review the law's environmental impacts.

The lawsuit claims that there's substantial evidence that the ordinance "will result in adverse environmental impacts" such as contamination of the process for recycling bags.

The suit says customers will mistakenly try to recycle compostable bags as plastic bags and "this will contaminate the plastics recycling system, causing more wasted energy and resources."

The suit also alleges the ordinance "will increase greenhouse gas emissions and add more pollutants to water resources by causing a significant rise in the use of other types of bags, including paper bags, which are most costly, generate more pollutants during manufacturing and require more energy to produce and recycle than plastic bags."

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch will preside over the Jan. 29 hearing.

In a report after a closed session on Nov. 15, the City Council said that when it approved the ordinance it "determined that the measure is exempt from environmental review on several grounds," but it didn't list those grounds.

The council's report says the council decided to delay enforcing the ordinance "in order to avoid potential confusion, disputes or litigation regarding covered businesses' obligations to convert to compostable plastic bags before the trial court issues its decision on the merits."

The report says the delay "allows the city to provide education and training for businesses regarding compliance before it begins to enforce the ordinance."

Sue Piper, an aide to Councilwoman Jean Quan, one of the sponsors of the ordinance, said Quan is telling her constituents "to act as if the ban already is in effect" so that they develop new habits by using reusable cloth bags or compostable plastic bags.

City Administrator Deborah Edgerly sent a letter to businesses affected by the ordinance telling them that it won't be enforced until after the court hearing but urging them to "educate and encourage your customers to use environmentally preferable and readily available alternatives to plastic carryout bags."

A similar ban on plastic bags took effect in San Francisco Nov. 20.