Attention, shoppers: Get ready to BYOB (bring your own bag) in San Jose stores
By Tracy Seipel
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 12/26/2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Don't act surprised, San Jose. Your days of toting home everything from groceries to auto parts to doggy toys to lingerie in the beleaguered plastic shopping bag are numbered.
Josefina Miranda -- and just about anyone else who's frequented a retailer recently in the city -- has had plenty of warning. For weeks, the signs above the check-out stands at her local Mi Pueblo Foods, along with announcements from the store's P.A. system, have reminded shoppers: On Jan. 1, a new San Jose law kicks in that bans single-use plastic shopping bags.
And unlike the growing collection of plastic bag bans in other cities, San Jose's is not just at grocery stores. The city's ban includes 5,000 or so retailers, from Best Buy to Big 5 Sporting Goods, Fry's Electronics to Frederick's of Hollywood, Petco to Party City.
But San Jose's rules don't stop with plastic: Customers who want to haul their goods home in bags made of 40 percent recycled paper will have to pay 10 cents a sack. If they don't already have reusable bags, they can purchase them -- in a variety of materials -- starting a $1.
"At first, it might be difficult," Miranda acknowledged last week as she pushed a cart piled with yellow plastic shopping bags packed with items for her family's traditional holiday dinner.
"But we are going to adapt. If it's a good thing for the environment, then we can all help."
It's been a long time coming.
In 2009, the San Jose City Council voted to ban most plastic bags, which environmentalists say foul waterways, clog landfills and threaten wildlife, as well as paper bags. Critics say paper bags require massive amounts of greenhouse gases to produce.
Final version of ban
In January, the council signed off on the final version -- one that went further than others by requiring all retailers to adhere to the ban, exempting only restaurants and nonprofits. "Protective" plastic or paper bags, without handles, for items such as meat, fresh produce, prescription medication or merchandise that could contaminate other food or goods are allowed, however.
The city's environmental services staff has spent the past two years spreading the news to retailers, and recently provided them with display cards and posters to herald the change.
"We wanted some time to work with businesses and give them a chance to get ready," said Kerrie Romanow, the city's acting environmental services director. "Not just, 'Hey, you have a month's notice -- here you go.' "
San Jose's new law isn't just the broadest in the Bay Area -- because it bans plastic and charges for paper -- but it covers the greatest number of retailers in California, said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, a 50-year-old nonprofit that works to protect and preserve San Francisco Bay. Romanow believes that San Jose is the largest city in the U.S. to have such a ban.
"All you need to know is that San Jose is the leader on this,'' said Lewis. "This should be the model for other cities in the Bay Area and around the country.''
But plenty of shoppers are already grumbling.
"I really don't like it, and my wife is unhappy with it," Jim Laflin, a retired project manager and senior inspector, said last week while leaving Orchard Supply Hardware with a plastic bag filled with pipe fittings.
He said the couple like the convenience of plastic bags. And like others, he said he's never sure how many bags he'll need when he goes shopping.
"It's a big bother to get the (reusable) bags" and remember to put them in the car.
To help show their support, some retailers are offering their own incentives. Safeway, for example, plans to give away one free reusable bag per customer, while supplies last at their San Jose stores.
CVS/pharmacy stores, meanwhile, reward customers who buy their reusable GreenBagTag. .
But the prohibition still draws critics, including Stephen Joseph, the attorney representing Save The Plastic Bag Coalition, who said bans like San Jose's are "not fact-based, but ideological green campaigners imposing this inconvenience and cost on thousands of stores and 1 million people in San Jose for no good reason."
The American Chemistry Council also condemns San Jose's move.
"It's unfortunate that many San Jose shoppers will see their grocery costs rise unnecessarily," said spokesman Tim Shestek. "Plastic bags are fully recyclable and recycling is on the rise."
San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a former environmental lawyer, believes in the ban, which helps the "Green Vision" goals he wants the city to achieve by 2022, such as sending a minimal amount of trash to landfills.
"We have high hopes that this ordinance will substantially reduce the garbage in our creeks and in the bay,'' the mayor said.
Back at Mi Pueblo Foods at the intersection of Story and King Roads, store manager Gabriel Jimenez said some people have already embraced the new law; in fact, he's running out of the pink mesh grocery bags.
But many others he's talked to remain hesitant about the change. Customers of all ages, he said, say they rely on the bags for all sorts of things, such as lining their kitchen trash cans. They can't understand why they'll have to buy trash bags instead of using the free plastic grocery bags.
Some customers have even taken to hoarding plastic grocery bags, he said. "They're saving them for after the first of the year."
SAN JOSE'S ORDINANCE
Prohibits single-use carryout plastic bags provided at checkout by all retail businesses starting Jan. 1. Restaurants and nonprofits are exempt.
Stores may sell paper bags made of at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content for a minimum price of 10 cents for each bag; the price increases to 25 cents after December 31, 2013.
Allows "protective" plastic or paper bags, without handles, for items such as meat, fresh produce, prepared food and prescription medication.
Customers purchasing food with WIC and CalFresh food stamps can get free recycled content paper bag at checkout until December 31, 2013.
Penalties for noncompliance include warning notices and fines of up to $1,000 per day.
Source: City of San Jose
Re-USABLE BAG TIPS
Keep re-usable bags by the door, in your car, or near your car keys.
Keep foldable bags in pockets, backpacks, or your purse.
Keep bags clean by washing cloth bags, or wiping bags with a sponge and mild soap.
For additional information, visit www.sjrecycles.org/bags or call (408) 534-BYOB (2962) cq or e-mail Bring-ur-Bag@sanjoseca.gov.
Source: City of San Jose
PLASTIC BAG ACTIONS IN Santa Clara County
Milpitas: The City Council continues to discuss an ordinance like San Jose's.
Mountain View: Still reviewing alternatives.
Palo Alto: Ordinance covers large grocery stores only and does not cover paper bags. The city is considering broader store coverage and paper bag regulation.
Santa Clara County: Similar ban to San Jose's starts Jan. 1 for about 50 to 60 retail stores located in the unincorporated areas of the county. Retailers can charge for recycled paper bags.
Sunnyvale: The city council this month approved a plastic bag ban in large supermarkets and pharmacies greater than 10,000 square feet, other large retailers and other food and beverage stores. The ban starts in June 2012.
The other cities in the county, including Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Morgan Hill and Santa Clara have either deferred action pending final court decisions related to the California Environmental Quality Act or Proposition 26, and will observe San Jose and Santa Clara County's ordinances, or have decided against banning plastic bags.
San Francisco is considering expanding its ban to the level of San Jose's.
Source: City of San Jose and wire reports