Why are single use plastic bags such a big deal?
Single use plastic bags present both an economic and an environmental burden on society. Litter cleanup of unincorporated areas costs County taxpayers over $20 million annually, of which plastic bags are a significant amount of the litter stream. If not collected, plastic litter often finds its way to the ocean where it can drift for years, or be mistakenly eaten by animals where the plastic will remain in the animal’s digestive tract for the rest of its life. At recycling facilities, plastic bags clog machinery which slows the recovery of other recyclables. Studies have also shown that a charge of 10¢ per paper bag would discourage customers from simply switching from one single use bag (plastic bags) to another (paper bags). Customers may bring their own reusable bags every time they shop to avoid paying 10¢ for a paper bag. In addition, these single use plastic and paper carryout bags were never “free”, but instead the costs were built into the price of commodities. To review the Staff Report submitted to the Board, click here.
What are the environmental impacts of single use plastic bags?
Since single use plastic bags are lightweight, they easily become airborne. They tend to be blown around and caught in trees, bushes, and fences, as well as getting caught in storm drains which can cause flooding issues. Bags that are caught on land cause a significant eyesore but also cause harm to the plants that ensnare them as well as animals which may become tangled in the bags or mistaken them for food or nesting material. In the marine environment these bags remain in the water for many years absorbing toxins and slowly breaking into smaller pieces. Unfortunately, these bags look very similar to jellyfish and many turtles and whales mistakenly eat the bags which remain in the animal’s digestive tract for the rest of its life. For further details about the environmental impacts of plastic bags, click here.
To watch a video explaining the effects of plastic bags in the marine environment, click here.
Can I use my own carryout bag?
What can I use as a carryout bag?
Anything you can safely carry your groceries with, including: reusable bags, baskets, buckets, and boxes, for example.
Are the bags that my Pharmacist uses for my prescriptions subject to a charge?
According to the California Pharmacy Board, pharmacies are required to keep medical information confidential. Since many pharmacies use opaque bags for this purpose, only carryout bags used for prescription drugs would be exempt from the County ordinance. Carryout bags used for other purchased items would still be charged.
What if I don’t want to buy/bring a reusable bag or purchase a paper bag?
If you can comfortably carry your paid purchases out by hand, that is one option; or you can repackage your goods into a shopping cart or basket and unload them directly into your vehicle (and then return the cart or basket).
Is there a place where low income people can buy discounted reusable bags?
Residents participating in WIC or SNAP are eligible to receive free bags sufficient to carry out their purchases from stores affected by the Ordinance (please see response to "Does the 10-cent charge per paper bag apply to everyone? Who is exempt?" below for more information). In addition, from time to time, Public Works distributes free reusable bags in limited quantities at various community events throughout the County.
Won't buying all these paper and reusable bags be a burden on me and my family during these hard economic times?
Based on the Socio Economic Study [PDF, 271KB] done as a part of the Environmental Impact Report [PDF, 49MB], the estimated increase in overall cost due to this ordinance is $5.72 per capita annually. This includes stores switching from plastic bags to paper bags (the cost of "free bags" are normally hidden and passed on to consumers); customers buying more trash bin liners; and increased sales tax incurred from the new purchases. However, potential savings or added value to customers, in the form of reduced taxes for litter abatement, increased property values, and the value of other environmental benefits associated with the proposed ordinance were not calculated in this study.
Are reusable bags recyclable? Where can I bring them to be recycled?
Depending on the material, it may be recyclable. Visit Smart Business Recycling for more information on recycling locations in the County.
What is the 10-cent charge used for?
All monies collected by a store from this Ordinance will be retained by the store and may be used for compliance with the Ordinance.
Does the 10-cent charge per paper bag apply to everyone? Who is exempt?
All affected stores authorized to accept WIC or SNAP purchase payments must provide at the point of sale, free of charge, either reusable bags or recyclable paper carryout bags or both, at the store's option, to any customer participating either in the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) or in the CalFresh/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Is the 10-cent charge per paper bag taxable?
No, the State Board of Equalization indicates that the 10-cent charge on paper bags would not be subject to State sales tax.