Santa Cruz County weighs curbing plastic bag ban

January 5, 2012 8:05:47 PM PST
Santa Cruz County has adopted a plastic bag ban ordinance stricter than any in the country. But it may never be implemented unless the Board of Supervisors drops one controversial element.

The popular Charlie Hong Kong restaurant in Santa Cruz is either crazy or ahead of its time. Months ago the owner voluntarily banned plastic take out bags.

"It's the right thing to do," owner Carolyn Rudolph said. "Somewhere you just say, 'OK, we are going to do and we are going to be known for this.'"

The traditionally liberal city of Santa Cruz doesn't have a ban on plastic bags, but Santa Cruz County has one for the unincorporated areas that is suppose to take effect in March and supposed to include restaurants.

That's when Stephen Joseph with the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition stepped in and sued.

"There is a safety issue; if you have hot liquids, hot grease, hot oil and foods and it spills, it goes right though a paper bag," he said. "People have been injured because of that kind of thing."

Santa Cruz County supervisors voted unanimously to support the broad based plastic bag ban, but say the lawsuit is forcing them to reconsider.

Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Stone says he has a promise that if the county drops the restaurant portion of the ordinance, the lawsuit will go away and thinks for now, the tradeoff is worth it.

"It still leaves us room to do the right thing in the bigger picture but is not going to hold up the implementation of our ordinance in the near term," Stone said.

Supervisors will look at their options later this month and environmental groups say they will keep pushing.

"People might not be used to using their reusable bag at a restaurant but it could switch a lot of minds and get rid of a lot of pollution," Save Our Shores spokesperson Lauren Dockendorf said.

The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition says reports of plastic bag pollution are an over-exaggerated hoax. In this case, the county may end up compromising.