Single-use plastic bag bans are underway
Shoppers in Capitola, Watsonville, the City of Santa Cruz, and the unincorporated parts of the county are, by now, becoming accustomed to the absence of plastic bags.
On Sept. 20, 2011, Santa Cruz County became the first local jurisdiction to pass an ordinance that banned single-use plastic bags and implemented a fee for paper bags, which took effect last spring. Watsonville, Capitola, and Santa Cruz followed suit with similar actions: Watsonville’s ordinance went into effect last September, and, as of last month, the bans in Capitola and the City of Santa Cruz are now in place.
The group largely responsible for the ousting of plastic bags locally, Save Our Shores (SOS), mobilized on the issue after collecting more than 34,000 littered plastic bags from 2007 to 2010, says Executive Director Laura Kasa. In the past year, SOS claims to have seen a 90 percent drop in plastic bag litter.
The nonprofit is now pointing to a survey that shows, more than a year later, that residents in the unincorporated parts of the county are on board with the ban. According to Civinomics, a Santa Cruz company that worked with SOS to conduct the survey, public opinion of the county’s ordinance seems to be mostly positive. Although, Civinomics notes that due to the sampling methodology they employed, the survey is not intended to be statistically representative, and only serves as a glimpse into local attitudes.
The survey, which was carried out in late March at four locations in Santa Cruz County—Deluxe Foods in Rio Del Mar, Safeway on 41st Avenue, the Felton Safeway, and the Ben Lomond Market—found that the majority of those questioned approve of the prohibition. But opinions varied about the increased fee on paper grocery bags, which is intended to offset the cost for retailers who must switch to the exclusive use of paper bags and encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.
According to the survey, 77 percent of respondents felt that the ban has had a good impact on the environment, with 21 percent stating that it had some impact, and 2 percent saying that it had little or no impact. When asked about the fee for paper bags increasing from $.10 to $.25 on March 20 (the day that the survey was carried out), 43 percent of participants said that they supported the fee, and 37 percent opposed it.
Several local retailers did away with plastic bags before the bans were put in place. Whole Foods, for example, has never offered plastic bags. Like locally owned businesses such as New Leaf and Staff of Life markets, Whole Foods has long been promoting the use of reusable bags with a program in which shoppers who don’t use a paper bag can help support local nonprofits.
“To help our customers adjust, we offered a special on our reusable bags on the first week of the ordinance [that was] buy one get one free,” says Melissa McConville, marketing team leader at Whole Foods in Capitola. “We had an increase in purchase of reusable bags in the beginning, but many of our customers are conscious and passionate about bringing their own bags, and already had bags of their own.”
On Earth Day (April 22), the county’s ban on plastic bags was extended to restaurants in its jurisdiction, although eateries can provide paper bags at no charge. Some restaurants in the local incorporated cities have voluntarily done away with plastic bags, such as Charlie Hong Kong in Santa Cruz, which stopped using them for carryout orders back in 2011.
“What finally got me to do it was when I saw that photo of the mother otter with a baby otter on her chest trapped in a plastic bag,” says co-owner of Charlie Hong Kong Carolyn Rudolph. “I had been thinking about getting rid of plastic bags, and all of my staff was onboard, and we promoted it among our customers, and we just did it. Even though the customers weren’t used to it, they knew it was the right action.”
The City of Santa Cruz has mostly received positive feedback from residents regarding its ordinance, according to Superintendent of Resource Recovery Bob Nelson, who hopes that the ordinance will help to restore the local environment in the years to come.
“We anticipate that we will all benefit from cleaner beaches and watersheds,” says Nelson. “More stringent storm water regulations, regarding litter in waterways, are coming from the state, and this will help put the city in a good position for compliance. One other benefit with individual cities taking these actions is that we are forcing the state to take action on a higher level.”