Plastic Bag Ban

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Council Adopts Slate of New Environmental Regulations
to Encourage Sustainable Consumer Habits

Bag Ban

This summer, with strong support from environmentally minded businesses, organizations, and residents, the Santa Cruz City Council voted unanimously to prohibit local shops from sending home their products in single-use plastic bags.

The ordinance received final approval on July 24, 2012, making Santa Cruz the 51st California community to banish the single-use plastic bags that are a major source of ocean pollution. The ban will go into effect by April 2013.

“Our overarching goal is to reduce litter and keep trash out of our marine environment,” said Mary Arman, Operations Manager for the City’s Public Works Department. “This ban will also preserve our landfill and save money for the City.”

While single-use plastic bags are still allowed in restaurants, and for wrapping loose or drippy food items in grocery stores, City analysts estimate that the ordinance will slash local plastic bag consumption by up to 90,000 bags per day—as many as 32,580,000 bags per year—in the City of Santa Cruz alone.

Because only five percent of the plastic bags are recycled, approximately 31 million of the bags currently handed out by Santa Cruz retailers end up clogging the landfill, as litter, or blowing out to sea, where they are known to sicken and kill marine creatures.

Based upon this knowledge, many local businesses have already made the switch, prodded along by customers eager for a change.

“We discontinued plastic bags years ago, and, honestly, I can’t remember that it was ever a big deal,” said Russel Kreitman, Manager at Staff of Life Natural Foods Market. “All in all, we’re really excited about this. Our customers are just as concerned about plastic and its effect on the planet as we are.”

Paper carry-out bags are allowed under the ordinance, but retailers are required to charge customers ten cents per bag to discourage usage, and must offer paper bags made from 40% post-consumer recycled content.
Santa Cruz businesses currently hand out as many as 11 million paper bags per year, and the loss of plastic bags could potentially boost that number by more than 7 million, at least until shoppers get in the habit of bringing their own bags when they shop.

“The ordinance will still result in a net reduction of 25 million disposable bags per year in Santa Cruz,” Arman said.

The City also instituted a ban on polystyrene foam products, forbidding businesses within the City limits from selling products made from expanded plastic foam often referred to by the trade name “Styrofoam.”

Santa Cruz banished polystyrene restaurant take-out containers in 2008, a move that greatly reduced the amount of polystyrene foam litter on area streets and beaches.

The City’s new ban goes beyond take-out food containers to include everything from foam cups and plates to coolers and packing peanuts. Items that contain polystyrene foam encased within a durable coating, such as surfboards or life preservers, are exempted from the ban.

In another pro-environmental move, the Santa Cruz City Council voted to require that electronic waste be delivered to third-party certified recyclers. The ordinance is intended to discourage fly-by-night collectors, and assure that locally discarded electronics are recycled in a way that is safe to the workers and the environment.