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San Mateo looks to adopt plastic bag ban
January 19, 2013, 05:00 AM Daily Journal Staff Report

With plans to follow San Mateo County in banning single-use plastic bags, San Mateo will become the most recent city to plan a public hearing to discuss making the possible prohibition live on Earth Day.

San Mateo's Department of Public Works will be discussing the anticipated reusable bag ordinance and polystyrene ban with the City Council 7 p.m. Monday, March 4 at City Hall's Council Chambers, 330 W. 20th Ave. San Mateo County led the effort to study and adopt these environmental policies that are aimed at protecting the environment by reducing litter and promoting the use of reusable bags as an alternative to disposables. Implementation is scheduled for Earth Day, April 22.

"From a city perspective, the impacts to our coastline, and our resources allocated to cleaning our shoreline, is immense,” Public Works Director Larry Patterson said in a prepared statement. "We are proud to join our neighboring cities in implementing these important environmental ordinances and working with our business community on the transition to using more environmentally-friendly materials in their operations.”

But plastic bag manufacturers contend reusable bags are actually worse for the environment and that banning them will lead to job losses. Paper bags, made from trees, require four times as much energy to produce, according to the industry.

San Mateo County adopted its ban last year and several Peninsula cities, which had been holding out for a template model, are now following suit.

The county ordinance, which also begins in April and which the city ban echoes, allows patrons without reusable bags to request a single-use paper version from retailers for the price of first a dime and, after Jan. 1, 2015, a quarter. Retailers can voluntarily choose to give free bags to food stamp and WIC participants.

Bags without handles for medicine or to segregate food that might contaminate are exempt as are nonprofits such as Goodwill. Restaurants can still send food in to-go bags as public health officials have not yet ruled out the possibility of reusable bags leading to cross-contamination.

More than 20 billion disposable plastic bags are used in California annually — more than 500 bags per person per year in the county — and less than 8 percent are recycled, Dean Peterson, the county's director of environmental health, told the Board of Supervisors in October when it considered the ban and an environmental impact report of a prohibition.

Twenty-four cities in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties participated in the EIR process but each city council that hasn't already done so must adopt its own ban. Other interested cities are Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Menlo Park, Millbrae, Pacifica, Portola Valley, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, South San Francisco, Woodside, Milpitas, Cupertino, Los Gatos, Campbell and Mountain View.

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