Daly City looks to ban plastic bags, but lawsuits loom

| January 30, 2011

Large stores in Daly City could be the first on the Peninsula to stop asking consumers to choose between paper or plastic under a Council member’s proposed new law.

Councilman David Canepa told The San Francisco Examiner that he will propose an ordinance at the Feb. 14 council meeting that would ban plastic bags at supermarkets and other retailers with stores larger than 10,000 square feet.

If the law is approved, it would be the first plastic bag ban in San Mateo County, but Canepa is already bracing for a battle with the plastic bag industry.

The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition has sued other cities and counties that have approved similar bans without doing a full environmental study of potential impacts.

“We would absolutely, definitely sue Daly City if they passed such an ordinance without doing an [environmental impact report],” coalition attorney Stephen Joseph said.

Canepa said a lawsuit is a concern, but he believes the demand for environmental studies is a stall tactic from the industry. He said the ban would help reduce litter and encourage the use of reusable bags.

“Plastic bags have a detrimental effect on our parks, on the streets, at our stormwater dispensers,” Canepa said. “It’s going directly into our waterways; it’s going directly into the ocean.”

The legislation would impact single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, clothing shops and other retailers, and would exempt restaurants and businesses under 10,000 square feet, Canepa said. Paper bags consisting of more than 40 percent recycled content would still be allowed, but retailers would need to charge at least 10 cents per bag.

Since San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban plastic bags at grocery stores and drug stores in 2007, other localities have pursued similar efforts.

But some environmentalists have questioned the merits of paper bags, which are more energy-intensive to produce and emit greenhouse gases when they decompose.

Tim Shestek, senior director of state affairs for the American Chemistry Council, said in an e-mail there are better ways to reduce litter than plastic bag bans, which “erode consumer choice and threaten well-paying manufacturing jobs.”

Joseph said the coalition didn’t sue San Jose, Santa Monica or Los Angeles County because they did environmental studies of their plastic bag bans. They also enacted fees on paper bags.

Officials are “entitled to make a wrong environmental decision,” Joseph said. “[But] you’re not entitled to do it by misinforming the public and pretending there are no negative environmental impacts from what you’re doing.”

Save the Bay supports plastic bag bans that also discourage use of paper bags, spokeswoman Amy Ricard said. “We really want to put policies in place that will encourage consumers to use reusable bags.”

Bag battles

Other government agencies that have tried to ban plastic bags after San Francisco became the first city in the nation to do so in 2007:

Manhattan Beach
- Passed a plastic bag ban in 2008 without a full environmental study
- Save the Plastic Bag Coalition filed a lawsuit
- The superior and appeals courts ruled in favor of the coalition
- The case is before the California Supreme Court

Palo Alto
- Passed ban in 2009
- Was sued by coalition
- Parties agreed to a settlement that requires the city to prepare an environmental study before expanding ban to more stores

San Jose
- Passed a plastic bag ban in December 2010 after conducting a full environmental impact report

Marin County
- Passed a plastic bag ban last week without a full environmental study

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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