Come October 1, Cupertino residents will join most of Santa Clara County in needing to grab their reusable bags when heading out locally to shop, or having to pay an extra dime on the way out of the store.
Many cities in the county, including San Jose and Mountain View, have recently implemented a reusable bag ordinance. Los Altos’ ordinance goes in effect July 4. Palo Alto has even had a supermarket-specific ban in place for about five years.
Cupertino is one of the cities in the county to have passed the ordinance, but is still preparing.
Along with many surrounding cities, Cupertino must reduce its total waste output by 40 percent by July 2014, under mandates from the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, said Cheri Donnelly, environmental programs manager for the city of Cupertino. This number rises to 70 percent by 2017, and finally 100 percent by 2022 – meaning no signs of visible litter, she added.
The widespread idea of a reusable bag ordinance began in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties as a way to achieve this goal of litter reduction.
When conducting an environmental impact report within their own county, which was seen as necessary given the environmental standards set forth, officials of San Mateo County offered to conduct it for many cities in Santa Clara County as well.
Following the EIR’s results confirming that eliminating single-use plastic bags from store counters would be environmentally beneficial, most of the county’s individual city councils one by one decided to pass a ban on the bags, which are one of the most common litter items found in the cities’ bodies of water.
Many cities’ bans went in effect in April to coincide with Earth Day, including most cities in San Mateo County and a few in Santa Clara County.
The Cupertino City Council first looked at the ban in January of this year, and passed it in March. The ordinance does not go into effect until October, however.
This is because of Cupertino’s largely retail culture, Donnelly said. The city wanted to give the large amount of retailers time to adjust for the changes, as well as customers. There are about 270 retailers currently in Cupertino, Donnelly said.
The reusable bag ordinance bans the use of single-use plastic bags at all grocery and retail stores. It does not apply to food service establishments at this stage.
Under the ordinance, reusable bags are strongly encouraged as an alternative, but paper bags are also an option at the stores – for a minimum charge of $0.10. The charge for paper bags is set to automatically increase to $0.25 starting in 2015.
Julie Weiss, an environmental specialist at the city of Palo Alto, said the bag charge makes it apparent to the consumer where their money is going.
“The truth of the matter is they’ve never been free … they’re built into the charge of the merchandise you were purchasing,” Weiss said. “But now its ‘oh I’m buying this' – that’s when the lightbulb can go on and inspire behavior changes.”
Weiss said Palo Alto was the first city in the county to implement a bag ban, back in 2009. Palo Alto’s original, experimental ordinance did not apply to all retail stores nor enforce a charge on paper bags, she said. But updates that started Monday to Palo Alto's ordinance change that. In November, Palo Alto is also extending the bag ban to restaurants, she said.
Cupertino’s outreach effort has mostly consisted of notifying consumers about and prepping retailers for the change. Donnelly said the city heard mixed feedback at first, but has received less feedback since the actual passage of the ban.
“People are used to it,” Donnelly said.
On top of the ban already being in place in surrounding shopping areas like San Jose, many larger chain or corporate retailers are already in accordance with such rules, she added.
To educate retailers of the upcoming ban, the city spent about $8,000 organizing “retailer toolkits” that include materials for retailers to display in their store and to give consumers more information, like signs for parking lots and a referral form for people to contact the city with any questions about the ordinance.
Donnelly said the city wants to make it clear to consumers that this was the city’s decision, not the retailers.
They also plan to hang a banner over Stevens Creek Boulevard about the ordinance in August.
Another part of the outreach by the city is partnering with the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce to hold four informational sessions for local retailers to learn about the upcoming ban. The first two were held in June, and received a turnout of one person each, Donnelly said.
There is another informational meeting this Wednesday at 8:45 a.m. at the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce on 20455 Silverado Ave. The final meeting will be on Tuesday, July 9 at 8:45 a.m. at the Vallco Shopping Mall Food Court on 10123 N Wolfe Rd.More information about Cupertino’s reusable bag ordinance can be found at www.cupertino.org/reusebags.