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Napa passes plastic bag ban

The Napa City Council on Tuesday passed a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags at city retailers, effective Jan. 1, 2015. 

J.L. Sousa/Register file photo

It's official. Beginning Jan. 1, plastic bags will no longer be available for shoppers who frequent most Napa retail stores.

After a slew of speakers mostly supported the city's proposed plastic bag ban, the Napa City Council unanimously passed an ordinance Tuesday night outlawing the single-use carriers from most local retail businesses.

The decision came after a 90-minute hearing, during which those both for and against the ban spoke passionately on the issue.

“Sometime you judge the greatness of a community by the things they do, but other times you judge their greatness by the things they undo,” said Hilary Zunin, co-founder of Napa Valley CanDo, a community environmental group. “In the past, people thought asbestos was good and lead in paint was good, and that plastic bags were good. But having the guts to fix something that ... really turned out to be problematic, shows the integrity of Napa.”

While most speakers during Tuesday's hearing echoed Zunin’s sentiments, not everyone was thrilled with the ban.

“There are a lot of myths out there about plastic bags,” said Napa resident Anna Gong. “The plastic bag has the smallest footprint. I've literally had them dissolve in my room.”

Gong’s husband, George Gong, also contended that not providing bags to customers will decrease purchases, since shoppers will only be able to carry a certain amount in the reusable bags.

“We’re all for saving the environment and conservation,” he said. “And while a service fee of 10 cents for paper bags won’t break our bank, this just isn't the way to handle this.”

Others asked why stores could not simply provide paper bags for free or switch to recyclable plastic bags. But Tim Dewey-Mattia, Napa Recycling and Waste Services’ public education manager, pointed out that the quality of recycled plastic from bags is extremely low. He also said it is nearly impossible to collect the bags without them getting loose and becoming liter.

“We have state-of-the-art programs and if we could recycle them efficiently, we would,” he said. “Even if we could collect them in curbside bins, it would all be low-grad plastic that would be of no benefit.”

As for offering paper bags for free, CanDo representatives pointed out that the energy costs for producing paper bags are much higher than for plastic bags, making reusable bags the greenest option.

Despite the few naysayers, many people came out to support the council in banning the lightweight plastic bags that are notorious for winding up along streets and in streams. Under the newly adopted ban, grocery, convenience and liquor stores, clothing shops and other similar businesses will be prohibited from giving out plastic bags at the checkout stand.

Enforcement of the ban will take effect on Jan. 1. The city will undergo an educational grace period, during which stores can still offer plastic bags to use up their supplies. The grace period will also offer businesses the opportunity to transition to only supplying paper bags for a charge of 10 cents per bag, if they choose to provide any bags at all.

The 10-cent fee for paper bags is a permanent charge. If a store chooses to provide paper bags, the bags will be 10 cents apiece and will not be subject to tax. The small fee will go back to the retailer.

Certain people and establishments will be exempt from the new law. Low-income residents who are receiving government assistance can receive free paper bags or reusable bags. Places that use plastic bags to protect items, such as dry cleaners and newspapers delivering a paper, are also exempt from the ordinance. Food establishments will also still be allowed to wrap to-go food in plastic bags, as will grocery stores that offer produce or bulk items for sale.

According to Julie Lucido, the city’s senior civil engineer, city staff has not yet finalized a plan for public outreach. Now that the council has approved the ban, Lucido and her staff will begin working on messaging for local businesses.

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“We want to continue to partner with … Sustainable Napa County to arm the businesses, so that if they receive pushback from customers, they have the tools they need to give informed explanations,” she said. “We also want to work with children to help them educate their parents on the benefits of using reusable shopping bags. We’ll whip up a full program in the next few weeks.”

Getting children on board with the anti-plastic-bag movement may be easy and beneficial for the city. Tuesday's meeting featured several Napa high school students speaking about how proud they were to see the ordinance moved forward.

City Councilman Scott Sedgley recalled a time years ago when he used to incorrectly dispose of his motor oil, only to have his young son chastise him until he changed his ways. “Single-use plastic bags are convenient, cheap and disposable,” he said. “But they also create liter. It’s undeniable and it is a mess. Our children get that. We might not be the first community to pass a single-use bag ban. But we certainly can’t be the last. So let’s do this now.”

Businesses also seem ready to adopt the new restrictions. Kevin Teague, representing the Napa Chamber of Commerce, said that chamber businesses support and appreciate the work the council, city staff and Sustainable Napa County have done on the matter.

“We see almost no resistance from the retail community,” said Councilman Peter Mott. “There was a time where the businesses would be out here railing against this. But we’ve done a lot of outreach and it’s fantastic.”

Napa is not the first local jurisdiction to adopt a plastic bag ban. About two weeks ago, the Calistoga City Council passed a similar plastic bag ban ordinance after realizing that a voluntary program asking customers to switch to reusable bags wasn’t working. Calistoga’s ordinance will officially begin on Sept. 4, but will also have a grace period through Jan. 1.

Last year, the city of St. Helena began exploring a similar ban. In March, Sonoma County’s plastic bag ban went into effect. Both Napa County and the state have explored banning single-use plastic bags, but measures have been stalled in the legislative process, causing the city of Napa to move forward on its own.


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