Ten and a half months ago, Alameda County approved a ban on all single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and many other retailers selling prepackaged foods or alcohol. In a little more than three weeks, the ban finally takes effect. Starting on January 1, the bags will no longer be available at the checkout stands of more than 2,000 retailers in the county, including most grocery stores, minimarts, convenience stores, pharmacies, and other businesses that sell prepackaged foods and alcohol.
Instead, customers can choose between bringing their own bags or purchasing recycled-content paper bags (which pose much less of an issue on the disposal end) or other reusable bags at checkout for a minimum price of ten cents each. (The fee is waived for customers paying with WIC or food stamps.) Stores are still permitted to offer smaller single-use plastic bags for the transport or protection of bulk items, produce, and meat. The ban does not apply to restaurants and take-out food establishments, though it's worth noting that in Oakland, Berkeley, and other Bay Area cities, Styrofoam is illegal at such businesses.
"The Reusable Bag Ordinance will further the agency’s long-term waste reduction goals by helping to decrease the number of bags going to landfill," said a statement from StopWaste.org, which approved the ban in late January. "Plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down, causing a cumulative litter problem. The ordinance will also save cities money on litter and storm drain cleanup, which costs Alameda County jurisdictions approximately $24 million every year."
Alameda County is one of 51 cities or counties in California, including San Mateo County, Los Angeles County, and the cities of San Francisco and San Jose, to limit single-use bags. The ban applies to all fourteen cities in the county as well as unincorporated areas. The Alameda County Waste Management Authority, operating as StopWaste.org, says it has been working with retailers in advance to ensure compliance.
And though you've probably heard them a thousand times before, here are some tips from StopWaste.org to help you avoid getting caught at the store empty-handed:
· Hang a few reusable bags on the coat rack or near the front door
· Keep a few reusable bags in your car
· Keep a reusable bag at your office or place of work
· Keep compact reusable bags (nb: like the awesome ChicoBag) in your purse, backpack or pocket