After years of wrangling, the first phase of the City of Santa Barbara’s much-debated ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect this Wednesday, meaning that customers frequenting 18 large supermarkets and pharmacies had to find other means of carrying their purchases out of the stores. Paper bags will still be allowed under the ordinance, but vendors will be required to charge customers 10 cents per bag to discourage their use. Paper bags, anti-bag activists acknowledge, have even larger carbon footprints than single-use plastic. “The purpose of the ban is not to get people using paper but to switch to multiple-use bags,” said Kathie King of the Community Environmental Council, which, along with groups like Surfrider and Channelkeeper, spearheaded the bag-ban drive.
King estimates 47 million single-use plastic bags are used annually within city limits. The ban — when fully implemented — will reduce that number, she said, to five million. “I think that’s probably enough for picking up dog poop,” she said, referring to one of the more prominent arguments waged by plastic-bag supporters against the ban. King praised city environmental planners for their outreach work with the supermarket and pharmacy chains that will be most immediately affected. Likewise, she noted most of these corporations have dealt with bag bans already in effect in 100 other California cities. The second phase of the ban, regulating 64 smaller outlets selling food, snacks, and alcohol, takes effect November 14. Exempt are lighter plastic bags used within supermarkets to contain meat and produce, as well as newspapers, dry cleaning, and non-food-or-drink-related retail products.
The State Legislature is now considering yet another proposed statewide ban on plastic bags. Two previous attempts have failed, and the plastic-bag lobby has announced intentions to wage a full-frontal assault on the latest, introduced by State Senator Alex Padilla. Under Padilla’s bill, consumers would be charged 10 cents per paper bag. As with the Santa Barbara ordinance, that money will be kept by the vendors and not collected by any public agency. King said she’s waiting to see how the state bill fares before pushing the county supervisors and the Goleta City Council to follow the City of Santa Barbara’s lead.