The Alameda County Waste Management Authority board, operating as StopWaste.org, voted this afternoon to ban all single-use plastic bags at approximately 2,000 retail stores through the county. The ban is set to take effect on January 1, 2013, and applies only to large pharmacies and food-selling retailers.
The ban is the first of its kind in the Bay Area to apply to an entire county, but it’s not as robust as a plastic-bag ban enacted in San Jose a few weeks ago on January 1, which applies to all retail establishments, nor as an expansion under consideration in San Francisco that would apply to restaurants as well as retail shops.
“Overall, this is great news,” said Allison Chan, a policy associate with nonprofit organization Save the Bay, which has been supporting StopWaste.org’s work on the ban over the past year. “The fact that it’s covering an entire county is awesome. But when you’re leaving out 5,000-plus stores, you’re leaving out a large portion of the bags that impact our waterways.”
The ordinance bans all single-use plastic bags in the establishments to which it applies, but permits those retailers to sell paper or reusable bags for a minimum of ten cents each. It is structured on an opt-out basis, meaning that all East Bay cities are included in the ban unless they decide to opt, through a full public process, by an early March deadline.
By the same token, the environmental impact report prepared to support the ban was based on the scenario of banning plastic bags at all retail establishments, meaning that should an individual city decide to enact a tougher ban, it will be supported by the same EIR and will not have to bear the cost of preparing a new one, Chan said. In the coming months, she added, Save the Bay will lobby Alameda County cities to not only remain in support of the proposed ban, but also adopt a stricter all-retail ban.
Concurrent with the plastic-bag ban, StopWaste.org also adopted an ordinance requiring recycling of high-value materials by large businesses and multi-family properties.