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The Conversation Continues: Ban Plastic Bags in Contra Costa?

We've had quite a few comments and thoughts on the subject. Here are some of them. Care to join the conversation?

With a ban on single-use plastic bags in Alameda County going into effect on Jan. 1, the question was posed to Contra Costa Patch readers what they thought about it.

The poll is nearly a tie, with 18 people opposed to a ban, and 19 who think a blanket ban should be imposed. Another six people think a ban should be targeted at specific businesses.

We got quite a few replies (67 so far). The opinions, not surprisingly, are varied and passionate. Here are a few (edited):

Chris Nicholson thinks the whole thing is “another feel-good/do-nothing fraud of an idea, not grounded in science or logic and doing at least as much harm as good. Let's ban frowns instead.”

Josia thinks that it makes perfect sense from an environmental point of view: “Californians use 14 billion plastic bags every year. Do you think this basically non-degradeable trash magically disappears? Public agencies in California spend in excess of $303 million annually in litter abatement. Pollution is pollution and shouldn't be tolerated in the name of convenience, "free choice" or anti-government hysteria.

Douglas Bright offers a link to a site called Statisticbrain that outlines some pretty hefty (pun intended) numbers regarding the amount of discarded plastic bags taking up space on the planet. Meanwhile, Joseph Sze links to the American Chemistry Council, which encourages the use and recycling of the bags.

Louise B. thinks it’s another “nanny state rule.” She points out that produce sections will still carry the bags, ban or not.

Jose points out that aside from clogging up storm drains and waterways, they find their way into the ocean where they wind up in the digestive systems of fish and ocean mammals. CJ argues that cigarettes cause far more environmental damage than do plastic bags. He also says that reusable bags can get dirty and contaminate food.

There are many other examples of pros and cons on this discussion. What do you think?

Chris Nicholson February 10, 2013 at 10:03 PM
Here's the thing: we have plenty of landfill space. Who cares how long they take to decompose.
Julie Laura Rose February 10, 2013 at 10:34 PM
There should be artwork with this story of the "plastic continent" in the Pacific, along with a sidebar about it. The volume of wasted plastic on our planet since its advent is really what this story and issue are about. Start locally, thinking globally.
Tricia February 10, 2013 at 11:16 PM
Not sure we need another law to enact a ban on plastic bags (time and money could be better utilized on other issues). Stores should take the initiative and just charge 10 cents per bag. Very soon you'll carry your own bags. Also stores need to train their staff how to bag correctly so less bags, of any kind, are used. Less bags, less trash!
gavilan February 10, 2013 at 11:47 PM
To me this is an "and-both" issue, not an "either-or." And I have no use for those who trot out the nanny-state nonsense any time there's a proposal that offends their particular sensibilities. Good laws are about helping us all along towards what is in our collective best interest, but for which current economic cost-benefits are structurally out-of-wack. The "and-both" solution is straightforward and has already been suggested above: charge a nickel for every plastic bag. Discourage their use AND provide choice. Use the money for litter remediation. (I just road my bike down Pinehurst and counted three new illegal dumps). Need help seeing the effectiveness? If you're old enough, just think back to how many bottles and cans you saw lining the roads 25 years ago vs. today (with a nickel redemption now collected on each)?
sean February 11, 2013 at 12:25 AM
What is amazing is our State contrary to the Liberal idiots fuzzy math is on the verge of a financial colapse? So you would think our illustrious political hacks would focus on getting rid of regulations so folks could open a small business? Getting our taxes down? But they are so f...ing corrupt, that anything they can do to make it harder on the citizens is the extent of their efforts? When I can, I am gone ..off to Idaho.....You can have your spare the air day fine,your plastic bag fines,your smog check 2 fines,your no right to bear arms,your increase in crime,your OSCAR GRANT movies, and just shove it!!!
Chris Nicholson February 11, 2013 at 12:34 AM
Gavilan: what percentage by weight or volume of the trash in your new dump sites was plastic grocery bags? What is the relation between bags and dumps? Is it so strong that we should rejigger taxes and place the burden on bags? I think bike riders are the ones complaining about roadside dumps. Lets tax bikes and use money to clean roads. That would make almost as much sense. If we decide we want to spend more money cleaning up trash, lets make that a priority in the existing budget. If we want to focus the revenue on the problem, I would suggest more aggressive litter enforcement/fines. Or perhaps apportion the tax on all stuff that yields trash--- which would likely collapse into a sales tax on virtually everything that is not biodegradable. Logically, however, we should reduce other taxes to make revenue neutral (again unless we collectively decide to increase total spending in order to do more trash abatement). Is any of the above "nanny state nonsense?"
Jose February 11, 2013 at 12:34 AM
We are not debating specific legislation, and I don't think that a "complete ban" (whatever that means) makes sense, so I don't think this topic, take 2 no less, is very helpful. But this notion that this is a serious public health issue seems silly to me. If people will touch the handrails and doorknobs on their way into a restaurant and not feel the need to wash before eating, there will be negative health conseqences. Let those people take personal responsibility for their behavior. It is the same for someone who packs their own food into their own bag to take home. If you don't know what goes into the bag and when it needs to washed you probably aren't concerned about what is on that doorknob either. French fry anyone?
gavilan February 11, 2013 at 01:01 AM
CN: To me, all of it, actually...
Karen February 11, 2013 at 01:58 AM
Wow! Can't wait for you to go, (angry) Sean! I don't see you offering any solutions, just complaining! I agree with Tricia Riske... Charge for the bags (perhaps more than a dime each) and give employees lessons on efficient grocery packing. Also, I (carefully) wash my reusable bags.
Valerie Sloven February 11, 2013 at 02:19 AM
Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.
Claire Dobie February 11, 2013 at 03:30 AM
I try to use plastic bags only when I think it's more efficient or "green" to do so. So, for example, if I am throwing out old food that contains bones or other hard matter that is not garbage disposal friendly (and remember some Martinez residents don't HAVE garbage disposals), I will first place it in a plastic bag, tie it and then put it in the larger--also plastic--trash bag. I think that's the right way to go but I'm open to suggestions. Also, as far as "carefully" washing those bags. If they don't dry thoroughly, and depending on what was in them when you brought them home from the store, you're actually creating more bacteria, mold and mildew, and possibly spreading more germs. Just saying...
Jose February 11, 2013 at 05:03 AM
It helps when local government facilitates its citizens' desire to be more green, which is to say, more conservative, as in being better stewards of what has been given us. For example, I only use the garbage disposal for the small bits that I can't easily pick up with my fingers and dump into the food waste bucket. In Moraga, our waste disposal company accepts food waste (including small bones) in the "yard waste" cart. I keep what I have room for in my small home compost bin and recycle the rest. Not everyone has the space or the temperament for home composting, so it is a real benefit to be able to recycle the excess food waste. Note that some stuff, bones for example, are not good for home composting because they are slow to break down and will attract rodents. As a result, our family of four normally uses 1/3 to 1/2 of the 32 gal, not 64 gal, garbage cart. I am not sure what my neighbors consume so as to need the large cart, but all of my champagne bottles and caviar tins fit neatly in the other cart, the brown cart, so I am left to wonder. As for washing the bags, this also seems much ado about nothing. I carry packaged goods and/or produce most of the time, not exactly a toxic brew, so I don't need to wash often. If a package of meat leaks or the tomatoes get squished, the bag needs to be washed and thoroughly dried just like any other laundry.
Karen February 11, 2013 at 05:20 AM
Here, here, Jose! I also purchase 'Bio Bags' from Gardener's Supply Company for compostable garbage items. They are bags that hold up to three gallons and are made of 100% biodegradable cornstarch. In Walnut Creek, we are also able to put small bones and food waste (as well as tissues!) in the compost bin. Rest assured, my bags are "carefully" washed if necessary and then dried thoroughly on the clothesline.
Chris Nicholson February 11, 2013 at 05:28 AM
I think it's great that those here who prefer to use re-usable grocery bags are free to do so. Freedom of choice is good.
Dive Turn Work February 11, 2013 at 05:32 AM
I do like my canvas shopping bags. Mainly because they have insane pictures on them that freak people out. They were expensive but worth every penny. Still I'd like my plastic bag from time to time.
CJ February 11, 2013 at 06:15 AM
Sean- I am already making it happen.
Jeff W February 11, 2013 at 06:36 AM
I remember the days before plastic bags were mandated. Paper bags, were a blight or so we were told. It seems we are being told the same thing now about plastic bags. I travel the freeways in Contra Costa and do not notice many discarded bags rolling around the roads. I have kids, I use the plastic bags on a daily basis for transporting wet swim suits to extra snacks. When the bag is near its end we use it as a "pooper scooper". The extra bags go in the Safeway recycle bin. I would like see the nut jobs drop this and allow us to decide which bag we use instead of being prodded into using cloth bags. I understand that there are recommendations suggesting that these bags should be washed with every use. It seems that environmentally speaking this solution is worse than the problem. Jeff W
Dive Turn Work February 11, 2013 at 07:37 AM
When Oregon went thru its ban, I wonder who testified in front of its Legislature? Oh, yeah. International Paper. Hummm, I wonder what position they took? But, of course, the Koch Brothers, International Paper, etc. would never try to sway public opinion away from plastic bags and subtly support these bans.
Barb February 11, 2013 at 04:19 PM
I returned a few months ago from living in Penang, Malaysia for four years. Plastic bags are banned on this quasi 1st world island. It was hard for me at first to get used to not bringing my own reusable bags to the grocery store and other retail outlets but I did learn. Now back home in Walnut Creek I carry three bags in my purse all the time. My husband carries a couple in his fanny pack. If I do forget my bags I stuff everything into my purse. If Penang can do it we certainly can.
Jose February 11, 2013 at 05:24 PM
Ah yes, Idaho, the legendary El Dorado. Streets of Gold! Army of God. Neo-nazis to the north. Larry Craig, of the wide stance, representing freedom lovers in the Senate. The left over toxic waste and the uneducated and unemployed on the public dole after years and years of making good money mining silver. It beckons to me.
Captain Bebops February 11, 2013 at 05:36 PM
The "plastic" (or semi-plastic) grocery bags are only the tip of the iceberg. Look at all that packaging you bring home from the store. A lot of that is NOT recyclable. Businesses would cry if we took their colorful packages away from them so they can't sell us their processed crap. The excesses of our contemporary society are insane. The future may be only bulk foods or "science diets for humans."
Dive Turn Work February 11, 2013 at 05:47 PM
Who shops at a grocery store when you've got In-n-Out, Chick-Fil-A, Jack-in-the-Box, Carl's Jr, Taco Bell, and Burger King? I guess if McDonald's was your only choice then I could see being forced into a grocery store. Otherwise, who needs them?
Claire Dobie February 12, 2013 at 12:09 AM
I think your conclusion makes the most sense. I too remember the days when we were told that paper bags were bad for the environment but that was probably before they were made of recycled material. In any case, I do think each family has different needs and lifestyles that may dictate more of a need for plastic over paper or vice versa. So I agree we should be allowed to have that choice and act responsibly. Some things--like your swim suits--obviously work better with plastic. And yes, washing the bags seems like an environmental oxymoron to me. I always question how much water is used for washing bags and containers to "ready" them for proper disposal. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
CRE Agent February 12, 2013 at 02:47 AM
I guess that we will have to flush the cat poo down the toilet and into the Bay now that we can no longer re-use our Safeway bags. (Alameda Co Resident)
gavilan February 12, 2013 at 03:14 AM
Yes, because those are the only two options, of course. This comment section if full of false choices like this. Cat poo in the bay... or plastic bags. Washing bags everyday and wasting scads of water... or plastic bags. Your reusable bags become cesspools of disease... or plastic bags. No matter what you use, they become part of garbage ... so plastic bags all around! There are more important problems to solve... so why solve this one? I would like to think folks are smarter than this, that we can solve more than one problem at a time, that we can solve big problems AND little problems, that we can have bags AND an incentive (nickel to use one) to find alternatives, that we can buy biodegradable corn-starch bags for that cat poop and wash our re-usables at sane intervals along with those rags and work jeans. I mean, really folks...really?
Triple Canopy February 12, 2013 at 03:18 AM
This is stupid. There are more important issues than plastic bags. How about policies which encourage job creation?
Chris Nicholson February 12, 2013 at 04:03 AM
The topic of these threads is whether there should be a new law to ban bags. The choice is to ban bags or not. This is not a false dilemma-- it is a binary decision: yes or no. Whether a "problem" is big or small, don't we have to ask whether the "solution" actually makes us better off? It sounds like you do NOT favor a ban, but instead favor a 5 cent tax with money going for litter clean up (or just to reduce usage). Is that right? If plastic bags are unique in the magnitude of there contribution to litter (compared to other sources, including other plastic sources), I might agree with you. I have heard no such evidence.
Nousch February 12, 2013 at 04:49 AM
Oh this is a great topic. Last week, I shopped in a nice gift store in the Montclair district (Alameda County). I purchased a glass bowl that needed protective bubble wrap. When I was ready to pay, the store owner asked me if I needed a bag. I seriously looked puzzled... to which facial expression she replied "it will cost you 10 cents". My mouth dropped. Huh? Oh yes, she explained, you are in Alameda County now and as of 1/1/13 all stores have to charge 10 cents for a bag. All the bags she had were paper. I pulled my mouth back to its original position so I could talk. "but but but those are recyclable paper bags you have, why would you charge for those?" Oh no she replied, we have to charge for any bag, it's the law. I then asked "who checks, the 'plastic bag police'? Frankly, I am aware of the new ordinance in SF and Alameda Counties. I thought it was just for groceries. Can you imagine going to a nice boutique on College Avenue, spending $300-$400 on some cute new outfits and the salesperson asks you: "Do you want a bag with that for 10 cents?" Shriek!!!!!!!! Ridiculous. Groceries, reluctantly 'yes'. Everything else 'absolutely NO'. I can barely remember to bring my canvass bags to the grocery store.... now I need to carry extra bags to SF & Alameda to carry my non-grocery purchases in? Screw that! I walked out of that store, no bag!!! I'm surprised she didn't charge me for the protective bubble wrap and scotch tape!!!
srl99 February 12, 2013 at 03:53 PM
Who cares about plastic bags - it's time to band beer, wine and liquor containers. If you want to buy one of these accident, poor judgement and violence inducing substances either bring your own container or consume it at the filling station. Wait! How would our "elected" officials get through the day ?? Did you know the number one object thrown from moving vehicles at bicyclists is an open can of beer? More reason to ban these dangerous items!
gavilan February 12, 2013 at 05:04 PM
Yes, because lord knows our politicians are incapable of attending to more than one issue at a time. (In case my point is missed: this is (yet another) false choice in this discussion. There is no explanation I can think of for why our elected officials shouldn't be able to attend to more than one issue, some less "important" than others. (Never mind that county officials don't have a lot of levers to pull when it comes to job creation.))

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