The Planeteer: February 2, 2011

The Bag Wars are coming to town. Photo courtesy of National Public Radio

The Planeteer is a weekly wrap-up of environmental news from around the Bay Area.

Paper or Plastic? The Bay Area “Bag Wars” spilled into the headlands last week as the Marin County Board of Supervisors outlawed single-use plastic bags at grocery store checkouts throughout unincorporated Marin despite the opposition of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition. The advocacy group, which threatened to file a lawsuit over the Board’s decision to not conduct an environmental impact report, claims the ban will spur the increased use of paper bags.

Beginning in 2012, county authorities will fine stores that continue to use plastic bags. In an effort to further encourage the use of more eco-friendly reusable bags, the Board will also impose a 5-cent surcharge on paper bags. Several cities across Marin are reportedly considering similar legislation.

Recently, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition won a similar suit against the city of Manhattan Beach, Calif., which had imposed a ban on single-use plastic bags without conducting an Environmental Impact Report. The case is now before the state Supreme Court. In implementing the plastic bag ban, city officials opposed levying a fee on paper bags, according to reports.

The San Francisco-based SPBC, contends paper bags have a much greater negative impact on the environment than plastic. The group highlighted an EIR prepared for Los Angeles County, which found that paper bag production consumes more energy and more water than plastic bags. The study also found paper bags are responsible for more than three times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. L.A. County lawmakers subsequently passed a sweeping ban on single-use plastic bags in November, while imposing a 10-cent fee to discourage paper bag use.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to outlaw single-use plastic bags at chain supermarket and pharmacy checkouts. Lawmakers here also implemented the selective bag ban without conducting an EIR. Now, supervisors, including District 5 representative Ross Mirkarimi ¾ sponsor of the original ban ¾ are working to introduce a new ordinance that would impose a 10-cent fee on paper bags and expand the mandatory use of recyclable or compostable checkout bags to all retailers.

The Bag Wars look set to move further down the Peninsula in the coming weeks as Santa Cruz County Supervisors reportedly consider outlawing single-use plastic bags at retail store checkouts. The proposed ordinance would levy a fee on paper bags to help stores cover the costs of the program, according to reports. Bags provided by stores to hold fresh produce and baked goods would be excluded, while an alternate draft of the ordinance would exempt fast-food take-out establishments. The county, which held a public meeting on the proposed ban last week, is scheduled to release the results of its Environmental Impact Report by the end of February.