A split Cupertino City Council on Tuesday inched a little closer toward a ban on single-use plastic bags, with some members willing to embrace a ban right away, and others preferring to get in line behind neighboring cities leading the way.
While at least two council members were all in favor of implementing a full ban on the thin plastic bags with handles found at checkout counters as soon as possible, others were as excited about implementing a ban as a child being told to eat a plate full of spinach.
“I’ve been dreading when this was going to come up,” Councilmember Orrin Mahoney said Tuesday night. “I hate this stuff; it’s nannyism.”
Later he complained, “We’re being bludgeoned into this.” And although he thought Cupertino had bigger issues to confront, he agreed the city will have to comply with a ban at some point.
The potential plastic bag ban comes out of a menu of choices presented to 70 Bay Area cities by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board to get those cities to reduce the amount of trash that makes its way into creeks, and eventually the bay.
The board has set a schedule requiring cities like Cupertino, to reduce their trash loads from the municipal storm drain system by 40 percent by 2014, 70 percent by 2017 and 100 percent by 2022.
Because it’s impossible to physically measure the amount of trash from each city clogging local waterways, the board created formulas to calculate a baseline based on activities cities are already doing, as well as further reduction by introducing new activities.
Under those formulas banning plastic bags from all retail establishments, excluding restaurants, can earn a city as much as 12 percent in credit toward the eventual goals. A partial ban that includes large grocery chains would garner an 8 percent credit. Banning polystyrene takeout containers also earns an 8 percent credit.
Other possible waste reduction actions include things like increased street sweeping, annual inlet maintenance, anti-litter campaigns and enforcement of anti-littering and anti-dumping codes, among others. Those measures equal somewhere in the 2 percent to 4 percent range each.
Based on measures the city is already doing, Cupertino must earn 13.5 percent in credits by 2014. A bag ban coupled with smaller measures would earn those credits.
Other local governments have already embraced bans, or are in the process of adopting them. Santa Cruz County's bag ban went into effect Monday, the City of San Jose imposed a full bag ban on Jan. 1, and Sunnyvale is set to impose its full ban on July 20.
The County of San Mateo is looking at implementing a full ban by Jan. 1, 2013, and invited Cupertino to participate—for free—in a required environmental impact report (EIR) before creating a ban statute. The estimated cost of doing an EIR for this particular issue is $25,000.
The director of environmental health for San Mateo County, Dean Peterson, was on hand Tuesday night to explain the draft ordinance his county is considering, and answer questions about joining the EIR.
Peterson advised the city to point toward a full ban, like San Jose. While he realized there was a “steep learning curve” for shoppers, he linked it to the history of the state’s Bottle Bill deposits enacted in 1987.
“That took a long time for people to understand, now it’s just something that happens,” he said.
Tim James of the California Grocers Association said his organization favors consistency in how ordinances are enacted, so that a level playing field for retailers is maintained.
After much debate back and forth over the merits of various bans and actions, the council voted to join San Mateo County’s EIR for a full ban, without committing to enacting anything specific yet. The council also asked staff to look into a possible polystyrene ban for the future.
At the urging of Mayor Mark Santoro, the council also asked to look into increased littering enforcement, and banning the use of plastic six-pack rings. Banning plastic six-pack rings is not in the menu of actions offered by the water board, but staff members said they would see if the board could be persuaded to give credit for the move.
Although the council agreed to be a part of the EIR, it did not commit to enacting a ban right away, because of the hesitation to lead the way ahead of other cities by Mahoney, Santoro and Gilbert Wong. Only Barry Chang and Rod Sinks were in favor of taking swifter action.
“I don’t want to be a leader in this area,” Mahoney said at one point. “Cupertino has bigger problems I’d rather focus on.”