ST. HELENA — The St. Helena City Council voted 4-0 Tuesday to ban most single-use plastic bags and allow businesses to provide recyclable paper bags for a 10-cent fee.
The council carved out an exception for the high-quality branded bags offered at many downtown boutiques, which generally don’t meet the ordinance’s requirement that paper bags be 100 percent recyclable and made from 40 percent recycled material.
If formally adopted at the council’s Aug. 26 meeting, the ban would apply to all retailers except restaurants and take-out food establishments.
St. Helena’s ban is very similar to the one already enacted by the city of Napa, except that Napa’s will take effect Jan. 1 for all retailers. American Canyon is also considering a ban.
The city of Calistoga passed an ordinance earlier this month banning single-use plastic bags, with exceptions given for such things as bags for produce and carry-out food. The ordinance followed a voluntary ban that was supported by merchants, but not embraced by shoppers. The ordinance goes into effect Jan. 1.
Councilmember Mario Sculatti said the ordinance is aimed at “banning a pollutant,” adding that cheap non-biodegradable plastic bags are “a blight” on the environment.
However, the branded paper bags offered at many local stores promote St. Helena’s economy, said Sculatti, who agreed that such bags should be exempt.
Mayor Ann Nevero said the city could always revisit the question of branded “fancy bags” in the future when such bags can be manufactured to meet the ordinance’s requirements.
The ban wouldn’t go into effect for most retail stores until July 1, 2015. Supermarkets with at least $2 million annual sales would have to comply by Jan. 1.
Chamber of Commerce CEO Pam Simpson said the Chamber supports the ban, as long as branded bags are exempt.
Simpson said Safeway recognizes that bans are “inevitable,” and has already complied with other local bans. “They don’t think this is a problem – they do it all the time,” Simpson said.
Sunshine Foods has already tried to convert to paper bags, but Azteca Market, which offers plastic bags for groceries and take-out food, “understands that this will be an issue for them,” Simpson said. “It is going to cost them money, and it is significant for them.”
“We are very progressive here in St. Helena, and we all try to make that effort as locals to convert to reasonable bags and paper bags, and I think we’ve done a good job,” Simpson said. “I don’t think this is going to affect the locals at all.”
The ordinance would not apply to handle-less plastic or paper bags used for produce, meat or bulk food. It also exempts bags for prescription drugs and bags used to separate goods that could damage or contaminate other merchandise.
A bill working its way through the state Legislature, SB 270, would ban most plastic bags in grocery stores statewide.