Alameda County single-use bag ban expands

Alameda County has recently expanded the scope of its single-use bag ban to include eateries. This means plastic take-out bags will no longer be available at restaurants, bakeries, cafés, bars, and food trucks across the county.

There were a few clues this might be coming, with a significant amount of Alameda County dining establishments already making the switch to more eco-friendly paper bags. But the decision earlier this month means that Alameda County now has one of the strongest bag bans in the Bay Area and a tougher policy than the one in effect across the state.

The first single-use plastic bag ban in Alameda County took effect in January 2013, but it only applied to grocery, drug, and liquor stores. In June of this year, retail stores were added to that list. The impacts of the bag ban have been very positive. There has been an 80% decline in the number of single-use plastic bags purchased by businesses for distribution, and a 44% decline in plastic bags ending up in the county’s storm drains.

Alameda County has been a leader in addressing the negative consequences of plastic bags and their impacts on the San Francisco Bay. We hope that restaurants across the county continue this leadership and act quickly to comply with the law. Repeated non-compliance could result in a fine or other enforcement action for businesses. Consumers can use this form to let the county know about restaurants that may need their help in transitioning to the new law:

El Cerrito stepping up to the plate on trash

Styrofoam polluting Coyote Creek
Volunteers pull Styrofoam out of Coyote Creek in San Jose, May 2013.

While Alameda County has banned plastic bags and is home to many Styrofoam bans, neighboring Contra Costa County has been lagging behind this regional trend… until recently.  Recyclemore, west Contra Costa County’s recycling and waste management agency, just took the lead in developing a model ordinance to ban plastic bags.  It’s now up to the cities in the west county to adopt the policy, and El Cerrito is batting first.

The ordinance would ban plastic bags at all retail stores; restaurants and non-profits are exempt.  While plastic bags will no longer be available, customers can purchase a paper bag for five cents.  Or, they can avoid the charge by bringing their own bags – pretty simple.  This ordinance would actually go beyond the plastic bag policies in place in Alameda County, which only ban plastic bags at retailers that sell food.  To maintain regional consistency, we are encouraging Alameda County to consider improving their ordinance within the next year.

El Cerrito isn’t stopping at plastic bags – the council is simultaneously considering a ban on Styrofoam food ware.  Currently, only a couple cities in the county have Styrofoam bans.  It makes sense to consider these ordinances together, as both products are ubiquitous litter items in our creeks and along the Bay shoreline.  Both products do not biodegrade, and both are constantly picked up by volunteers during creek cleanups.

We can imagine – in the not so distant future – a time when plastic bags and Styrofoam do not make it into the top ten litter items collected on Coastal Cleanup Day.  El Cerrito and the rest of Contra Costa County play a major role in making that a reality.

Do you live in El Cerrito?  Voice your support for a plastic bag and Styrofoam ban at one of the upcoming public meetings: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 7 p.m. and Tuesday, July 9, 2013 at 7 p.m.