WATSONVILLE — Starting today, stores in the unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County will stop giving out single-use plastic bags.
The ban, enacted by the Santa Cruz County Board of Trustees last year, will affect more than 600 businesses countywide, said Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores, the organization that spearheaded the ban.
The rules originally applied to restaurants as well. But the county dropped that portion of the ordinance after a lawsuit by Stephen Joseph, attorney for Save the Plastic Bag Coalition.
The new rules also require grocery stores to charge 10 cents per paper bag, which will jump to 25 cents after a year.
At three press conferences today — backed by actors in sea turtle costumes and with the siren song of free reusable bags luring shoppers — Santa Cruz-based Save Our Shores will be discussing the implementation of the new ordinance.
The ordinance allows some exceptions. Plastic bags will still be allowed for grocery store items such as meat, produce and bread.
People on public assistance would not have to pay for bags.
Mark Stone, who co-authored the new ordinance, said he would prefer a statewide ban, but said lawmakers have tried twice unsuccessfully to enact such legislation.
Santa Cruz County approved the ban two years ago but tabled the issue for a year as they waited for a lawsuit to play out between the American Chemistry Council and the city of Manhattan Beach, which enacted its own ban in 2008.
The California Supreme Court upheld the ban in July.
In enacting the ban, the Santa Cruz County joins Los Angeles and Marin counties, as well as San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Oakland, Fairfax, Malibu and Long Beach, among others.
“I’m thrilled,” Stone said. “Finally!”
Stone said he wants to see the use of paper bags fade and county residents begin to exclusively use reusable bags.
The ban was hailed by environmental groups such as Santa Cruz-based Save Our Shores, which says that an estimated 500 billion plastic bags are used each year, with millions ending up in landfills, blowing on the ground and floating in the ocean. There, they harm wildlife and leach chemicals into the water, environmentalists say.
According to Save Our Shores executive director Laura Kasa, Californians use 380 plastic bags per second every year. Moreover, the organization’s annual beach cleanup has removed an estimated 34,000 from beaches and riverbanks over the past five years.
The cities of Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz are currently mulling a similar ban, but Capitola halted their own efforts after San Francisco-based Save the Plastic Bag Coalition threatened a lawsuit.
But not everyone agrees with the ban, or with the science behind it.
According to attorney Joseph, nearly all of the facts that county officials used to support the ban were based on “misinformation and exaggeration.”
“We don’t think plastic bags should be banned,” he said. “We are extremely upset that the county based its ban on false findings.”
For instance, Joseph pointed to a London Times story that found claims that plastic bags kill marine animals are grossly exaggerated.
In a letter to the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors dated Sept. 12, Joseph disputed a study by the U.S. Marine Mammal Comission, which stated that 267 marine species have been reported to have been hurt or injured by plastic bags.
“There is no such report about 267 marine species of which we are aware of, and if such a report exists it is wrong,” he wrote.
According to David Laist, senior policy and program analyst for the Marine Mammal Commission, plastic bags present a danger to whales and turtles, both of which confuse the bags for jellyfish. When they accidentally consume the bags, they can get clogged in their digestive tracts and kill them, Laist said.
The comission also disagrees with assertions that plastic bag production uses 12 million barrels of oil annually. In fact, plastic bags are made from ethane, which is a waste byproduct derived from natural gas production, he said.
Joseph also said that 85 percent of plastic bags are made in the U.S., an industry that will suffer in the wake of such bans. Many reusable bags, he added, are made in China.
In addition, paper bags are more expensive, and Joseph said that the increased costs will be passed to consumers.
“Santa Cruz County is the worst county in the state when it comes to misinformation,” Joseph said. “From a personal point of view it’s about getting the truth out.”
Save Our Shores will hold a press conference at the Safeway on 41st Avenue in Soquel at 12:30 p.m. The group will also hold dual press conferences from 4-6 p.m. at the Safeway at 16 Rancho Del Mar in Aptos and in Felton.
For the complete article see the 03-20-2012 issue.
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