If a plastic bag ban were enacted throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, consumers would use 400 million fewer plastic bags a year. According to a new regional environmental impact report (EIR), residents of the two counties — and the 16 cities within them — currently use 658 million plastic bags a year. If the sort of ban envisioned by the City of Santa Barbara were enacted in all those jurisdictions, bag usage would drop to 238 million.
Santa Barbara had proposed a multistage plan banning the use of plastic bags in supermarkets and stores selling food — restaurants would be exempt — and requiring stores to impose a 10-cent fee on paper bags. An environmental impact report was required to inoculate the proposed ban against legal challenge from organizations like the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which has argued successfully throughout the state that plastic-bag bans by themselves can have negative environmental consequences by increasing paper-bag use. Rather than have each jurisdiction incur the expense of preparing individual environmental reports, the analysis — which cost $60,000 — was prepared at the instigation of BEACON, an obscure joint powers agency dedicated to preserving a fresh supply of sand on area beaches. The Orfalea Foundation and UCSB’s Coastal Action Foundation each kicked in $5,000, as well.
Now that the environmental report is done, the City of Santa Barbara will begin the process of adopting a bag ban in earnest next week. (The cities of Carpinteria and Ojai already have.) Despite the fee on paper bags, the report indicates paper-bag use would increase 30 percent because of the ban, and 65 percent of shoppers would switch to reusable plastic bags. One plastic-bag supporter complained that the study failed to acknowledge that reusable bags require more water and energy to be kept clean and sanitary. Likewise, he said, they pose a health risk to the frail and elderly because the reusable bags can hold greater weights than traditional plastic bags. In Sacramento, State Senator Alex Padilla just introduced a statewide ban on plastic bags. A statewide ban, he argued, had become necessary since 70 cities and counties have enacted restrictions of their own. BEACON will be meeting Friday at 9 a.m. to discuss the EIR in the county supervisors’ chambers.