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Paper or plastic? Or perhaps reusable?

One local group that wants Napa shoppers to choose the latter option is proposing a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags.

Napa Valley CanDo is pursuing a ban on plastic bags in the city of Napa and possibly throughout the county, said founding member Grania Lindberg.

“Right now we’re speaking to electeds and other stakeholders,” Lindberg said Tuesday. She did not know when the group might propose the ban, saying the effort is in the very early stages.

If Napa enacts a ban, it would be following in the footsteps of San Francisco and dozens of other California cities that have enacted such laws. Earlier this year, San Francisco expanded its ban to prohibit bags from being given out at restaurants, something Napa’s law would not prohibit, according to Lindberg.

That law is now being challenged by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, according to local reports. The group asserts that San Francisco cannot regulate restaurants and should not have extended the scope of the ban without an environmental report.

Lindberg acknowledged the potential for lawsuits but said they are less common than they were several years ago when cities first started enacting bans. She believes Napa can write an ordinance that would stand up in court.

Last October, the grassroots group held Better Bag Month throughout the county and distributed and promoted reusable shopping bags. Members of CanDo spoke to shoppers outside local stores and shared their message: Single-use bags are bad for the environment and should be shelved in place of bags that can be used over and over again.

They handed out thousands of reusable bags donated by the city and county.

“We were thinking that enough people might have been educated” during Better Bag Month to avoid a ban, Lindberg said. “What we saw was a very small increase in the number of people who started using reusable bags.”

CanDo volunteers calculated the campaign’s impact through an informal survey of grocery stores pre- and post- Better Bag Month, Lindberg said. Volunteers counted the number of people exiting eight different stores who had at least one reusable bag.

The increase in reusable bag usage after October was 3.5 percent, Lindberg said.

“I’ve been working with CanDo on researching the possible bag ban, and I agree that the Better Bag Month did not have a significant impact — and I was not surprised by this since it’s still too easy to get plastic bags at check out,” said Tim Dewey-Mattia, Napa Recycling and Waste Services public education manager.

Since October, the city has not seen a drop in the number of plastic bags discarded, Dewey-Mattia said. He said the bags, which should be placed only in trash bins, are a big problem for Napa Recycling and Waste. Bags discarded in recycle bins get tangled in equipment.

“Plastic bags cost us large amounts of labor and time to remove from the recycling sorting line and composting operations, clog our machinery and are very dangerous to remove, and they are the biggest litter issue at our facility,” he said.

Grocery stores have bins to collect and properly recycle the bags, but Dewey-Mattia estimated only around 5 percent of single-use bags end up there.

Trader Joe’s in Bel Aire Plaza has seen more customers bring in reusable bags in recent years, according to manager Carlo Domitri. He credits education and the store’s incentive program.

When a shopper brings their own bag to Trader Joe’s, they receive a ticket to be entered in a weekly drawing for a $25 gift card to the store.

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“When this whole program started probably five or six years ago, there were just a few tickets (in the drawing) at the end of the week,” Domitri said. “Now there’s 700 to 1,000 tickets in there.”

Most shoppers, Lindberg said, either don’t use reusable bags or forget them at home or in the car.

“I think the biggest issue now is not getting reusable bags to people, but it’s getting people to use them,” Dewey-Mattia said. “And getting rid of the unlimited plastic bags at the store is probably the best way to remedy this.”

Under a ban, which would have to be approved by the Napa City Council at a public hearing, shoppers would have the option of purchasing a paper bag for 10 cents or so, Lindberg said. Shoppers using food stamps or who are on the WIC mother-infant program would not have to pay for paper bags.

The ban would not outlaw plastic bags used to bunch produce or package bread, Lindberg said.

If a ban were to be enacted, Lindberg said she believes stores would offer promotional discounts on reusable bags. The city or county might be able to purchase some to give away using grant money.

“They’re just all over the place,” she said of reusable bags. “I don’t think they’re that hard to come by.”

Dewey-Mattia said a ban wouldn’t largely impact the weight of trash going into the landfill but would benefit Napa Recycling and Waste operations.

Additionally, he said a ban would save natural resources used to manufacture plastic bags, which are often thrown away after being used once.

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