The Ordinance Committee voted 2-1 Tuesday against a ban on plastic bags and an expansion of the city’s voluntary “Where’s Your Bag?” program, preferring instead to continue with the city’s current strategy of allowing retailers to distribute the bags but encouraging residents to bring their own. The decision, which goes against the recommendations outlined in a presentation by the Environmental Services Division, passes the issue to the City Council.
Staffers from Environmental Services presented the scope of plastic-bag waste, which is estimated at 320 bags per person per year, and outlined plans for bringing that number down. The committee also heard comments from community members, including advocacy for a more stringent plan from a representative of S.B. Channel Keeper, and endorsement of “Where’s Your Bag?” from John Dixon of Tri-County Produce, which participates in the program voluntarily.
Councilmember Grant House sided with Environmental Services, advocating a plastic-bag ban and a fee on paper bags, or at least an expansion of the “Where’s Your Bag?” program. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss questioned the very validity of plastic bags as an environmental concern, arguing that they disintegrate and, being indigestible, pose no threat to coastal wildlife. Councilmember Randy Rowse, though acknowledging the importance of Santa Barbara’s environment, dismissed plastic bags as a “low-hanging fruit,” saying that a plastic-bag ban would be better dealt with at a county or state level. Hotchkiss and Rowse ultimately outvoted House 2-1, recommending to the City Council no change in single-use bag policy.