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San Jose set to ban both plastic, paper bags at stores

Plastic and paper shopping bags may soon no longer be an option at San Jose stores after the City Council voted to ban them at all retailers beginning in 2010.

The City Council voted 9-1 to ban single-use plastic and paper bags effective Dec. 31, 2010. The ban comes after San Francisco in 2007 beecame the nation’s first city to ban plastic bags although stores are still allowed to use paper bags.

Right after the vote, the Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition, or BayROC, called on stores and shoppers to embrace reusable shopping bags and urged shoppers to bring the bags to the grocery store.

The San Jose council’s ruling will ban both, requiring shoppers to either bring their own reusable bags or use “green” single-use paper bags — bags with recycled content of 40 percent or more.

Restaurants, nonprofits and social service organizations would be exempt from the ban.

Residents and businesses will still be able to buy plastic bags in bulk or off-the-shelf, city spokeswoman Michelle McGurk said.

Proponents of the ban say it will reduce trash that collects in landfills, local streams, waterways and freeways. The city estimates that about 500 million plastic bags are used each year in San Jose, of which only 1 percent are recycled.

Before the ban takes effect, the proposal must undergo an environmental impact study that will require final approval by the City Council sometime around March 2010.

In the meantime, city staff will conduct a public outreach campaign to businesses and consumers, McGurk said.

City staff will also work with the retail industry to determine whether a 10- or 25-cent per-bag fee to cover the additional costs of using “green” paper bags would be appropriate.

At the council meeting, representatives from various merchant associations argued that the issue should be handled at the state level to establish a single set of regulations, McGurk said.

McGurk said that if the state Legislature passes legislation relating to a fee or ban on single-use bags, the City Council would revisit the issue to determine whether to keep the municipal ordinance.

Councilman Pete Constant voted against the ban and Councilwoman Rose Herrera was absent from the meeting due to illness.

The Bay Area Recycling Outreach Coalition kicked off its regional “Bring Your Own Bag” campaign with student-created media spots and three events in Bay Area cities in different stages of enacting bans on disposable single-use shopping bags.

BayROC, a collaboration between the nine Bay Area counties as well as many cities and agencies in the region, advocates reusable bags in place of single-use plastic and paper sacks, which require considerable natural resources to produce and often end up littering land and polluting waterways.

BayROC co-sponsored shopping bag giveaways at grocery stores in San Francisco, San Jose and Palo Alto. Campaign coordinator Emily Utter said other municipalities who are members of BayROC may also be hosting reusable bag events.

Utter spent a recent morning at an Andronico’s grocery store in San Francisco’s Sunset District, talking to customers about the importance of reusable bags, and handing out free nylon grocery totes to anyone who signed a pledge saying they will remember to bring their own bags when they shop.

Forgetting to bring reusable bags to the store is perhaps the biggest obstacle for eradicating single-use bags, Utter said. The program’s motto encourages shoppers to “make it a habit and grab it.”

Utter said she spoke to many shoppers who said, “Oh yeah I have them, I just don’t remember them.” Her group dispensed small, lightweight versions people can fit in a pocket or purse.

In San Jose, city representatives and recycling advocates followed up the official BYOB kickoff news conference by handing out about 300 reusable bags at PW Market’s Foxworthy Avenue location. The group also stenciled a “Got your bag?” logo in the parking lot to jog shoppers’ memories, said Adrianna Masuko, a policy director for San Jose Vice Mayor Judy Chirco.

The logo will help shoppers “avoid that Homer Simpson ‘D’oh!’ moment” if they forget to bring their reusable bags in from the car, Masuko said.

Launching the BYOB campaign in San Jose the day after City Council voted to ban most single-use plastic and paper shopping bags was just a coincidence, Masuko said. Chirco strongly supports educating consumers about reusable bags, and prefers “keeping the politics and the education component very separate,” she said.

San Jose’s ban will take effect in 2010. San Francisco instituted a plastic bag ban in 2007. Palo Alto’s plastic bag ban at grocery stores took effect last week and the city is targeting a 30-percent increase in reusable bag use by February 2010.

Palo Alto representatives distributed reusable bags at Piazza’s Fine Foods Wednesday. The city estimates the percentage of local shoppers with reusable bags jumped from 9 to 18 percent in the past year.

The campaign will also feature print, radio and television ads by students at San Francisco State University. Starting today, the ads will run on Comcast channels and some local stations, according to organizers.

Recent San Francisco State University graduate Carolyn Hom said her advertising, creativity and production class asked teams of students to design pro-reusable bag ad campaigns for BayROC.

Hom’s team focused on Bay Area mothers, she said. “We used the fashion take, trying to make it a hip, cool thing to have a reusable bag.”

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