City council of Saratoga, California, considering ordinance that would reduce use of single-use plastic bags
SAN JOSE, California
April 15, 2014
– Saratoga could become the next South Bay city to regulate single-use plastic bags. Earlier this month, the city council began discussing the possibility of adopting an ordinance similar to ones passed by neighboring cities that would reduce use of single-use carryout bags and styrofoam products.
A Saratoga plastic bag ban has been debated since at least 2011, but Councilwoman Jill Hunter and Vice Mayor Howard Miller spotlighted the issue at a council meeting in March.
"I'm proud of what we do in California. I think it's time that we do this," Hunter said. "As I said before, I'm embarrassed that we're one of the few communities that haven't done it. Everybody else is on board, and frankly, it's the right thing to do."
Saratoga is one of only a handful of cities in the county that doesn't have a policy regulating the use of plastic bags. The cities of Campbell, Cupertino, Los Altos, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose and Sunnyvale all have a bag-ban ordinance, as does the town of Los Gatos and Santa Clara County. Monte Sereno discourages the use of single-use bags, but hasn't adopted an ordinance restricting their use.
The ordinance passed by most of these cities requires retailers to charge 10 cents per single-use paper bag, with some having the option of increasing the fee to 25 cents per bag after a certain amount of time.
"A study of trash transported through urban runoffs in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 8 percent of litter consisted of single-use plastic bags," states a staff report on the subject. "While single-use plastic bags were not the single greatest source of litter found, plastic bags have been particularly difficult to clean up and have had adverse effects on marine environments."
The council concluded its discussion with an agreement to await the state Legislature's decision on Senate Bill 270, which would prohibit certain stores from providing single-use carryout bags to customers and would allow retailers to sell 10-cent recycled paper bags. According to city clerk Crystal Bothelio, the measure, if passed, would affect only two stores in Saratoga: Safeway and Gene's Fine Foods. Lawmakers have until the end of the legislative term in August to make their decision.
"Let's wait out this legislative session of the state; see if something comes through," Councilman Manny Cappello said. "It's doubtful, but nonetheless we should wait to see if they take action, because after all they could trump anything that we do."
In the meantime, the council requested an analysis from the public works department of the city's waste behavior "to determine if we really truly have a problem here in Saratoga or an indication of a problem," Cappello said.
While Cappello wondered whether a bag ban would be government over-regulation, Miller and Hunter hesitantly agreed to await the state's decision and approach the issue the "Saratoga way" per Councilman Chuck Page's suggestion, instead of emulating a process followed by other cities.
In addition to a discussion of a plastic bags ban, Hunter and Miller had also requested a discussion of adopting policies to restrict the use of carry-out foam food containers and other products made of expanded polystyrene or styrofoam by all food vendors.
"Lightweight [expanded polystyrene] can travel easily from inland waterways to the ocean. As it travels, EPS breaks up into small pieces that are commonly mistaken as food by birds and other marine wildlife, resulting in harmful side effects," the staff report states.
Saratoga already has a policy that prohibits the purchase of polystyrene products with city funds or the use of polystyrene containers at events or at facilities in the city. But now some council members want to adopt a law limiting or prohibiting their use, similar to Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Palo Alto and San Jose, all of which have adopted policies to reduce the use of polystyrene. The council indicated that for now, it would focus just on plastic bags.