Study in San Jose Finds Bag Ban Successful Year After Implementation

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plastic-bag-putahBy Dan Oney

A year after San Jose approved its Bring Your Own Bag ordinance; the City has released its initial findings on the plastic bag ban’s effectiveness. And the city is trumpeting the program as a success.

Among the justifications for the declaration of success, the City had assigned resources to evaluate the impact that the first year had on the use of plastic bags, their prevalence in trash processing facilities, and related water-borne pollution. The resulting data showed a significant reduction in bag-related waste.

According to a staff report, California Waste Solutions, which handles the waste from much of the city’s single-family residential properties, saw a 24 percent reduction in in retail plastic bags. Green Waste Recovery, which handles recycling from multi-family residences saw a drop of 10 to 15 percent.

Additionally, city staff performed field pollution studies, comparing creeks, storm drains, and other water bodies for signs of change. Using standard distances and times, the City found some areas had experienced plastic bag pollution reductions of 50 to 60 percent. On average, storm drain catch basins dropped from 3.6 bags per year to just .4 bags per year.

The drop in plastic bags escaping into the community begins at the stores, where the plastic bag ban and $.10 charge for reusable, recycled paper bags have encouraged shoppers to choose to bring their own bags or walk out with products un-bagged. While watching consumer behavior at various locations in the city for an hour each, observers saw an increase of reusable bags. In 2010, before the BYOB ordinance took effect, just 3.6 percent of bags were reusable. Now, they account for more than 62 percent of bags. Customers forgoing bags entirely is now more than twice as common.

Based upon the success with the bag ordinance, the City is exploring the forced eradication of Styrofoam containers for take out food service. That topic will be broached after the start of the New Year.

You can read more details on the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance at the City of San José’s website.

Originally Published at PublicCEO.com.  Reprinted by Permission.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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23 thoughts on “Study in San Jose Finds Bag Ban Successful Year After Implementation”

  1. Robb Davis

    Whatever one thinks of the value of such an ordinance, what I find most interesting (and instructive) in this story is how San Jose collected data pre- and post-ordinance to attempt to assess changes in behavior that resulted from it. As a result, any discussion of the value of the ordinance can use some level of evidence as opposed to merely rehashing stated positions on the matter.

    Whether the results indicate a successful program or not (which should be based on objectives for waste reduction that I assume SJ set), is open for debate. However, that debate is now informed by actual evidence. Davis needs to take a lesson from San Jose on this–not just for our own proposed bag ordinance but for decisions we make, and targets we set, all the time (how to shift transportation mode share per the climate action plan and the downtown parking challenge are two issues that would benefit from routine and/or periodic data collection, for example).

  2. DT Businessman

    The purpose of reprinting this piece on the Vanguard is not clear to me. The only point that I see made here is that banning plastic bags leads to significant reduction in plastic bag use and waste. That seems self evident to me and I don’t recall the notion being in dispute here in Davis. The dispute in Davis centered on: 1) whether a mandatory ban was the best fit for our community; 2) the specifics of the proposed ordinance; 3) the additional regulatory burden imposed on local businesses; 4) creeping nanny state. If the only concern is waste generation reduction, why not impose a ban on waste generation entirely? Clearly the desire to reduce waste generation is balanced against other community concerns/priorities and best use of limited community resources.

    -Michael Bisch

  3. David M. Greenwald

    I think Robb’s comment posted concurrent to yours illustrates one point – the acquisition of data.

    “If the only concern is waste generation reduction, why not impose a ban on waste generation entirely?”

    I think that’s a valid point. The question I would have is whether we should take incremental steps towards reducing waste generation (notice I say reducing rather than eliminating) or whether we should try to do it one fell swoop.

    That leads to a second reason for posting this, it gives us a sense what is working and what has been implemented in other communities.

  4. DT Businessman

    David, you’ve put your finger on the issue many had with the proposed Davis ordinance. Is this the best use of our limited time and other resources in reducing waste generation, i.e. is this the greatest bang for the buck? Staff all along said “no”. And I never heard/saw a compelling reponse from the proponents.

    I think Robb’s point is we don’t know that the SJ ordinance is working. What were the objectives? What are the negative consequences? What resources where invested to achieve the results, i.e. the cost/benefit? The posting here was very, very limited in scope.

    -Michael Bisch

  5. David M. Greenwald

    I think you ask a reasonable question.

    I was just down in San Luis Obispo where they have a county-wide ban, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. I went to a store, they asked if I wanted a bag telling me it was 10 cents. I had only a few items, so I declined. Had I had more, I would have accepted.

    While the posting here is limited, there is a link to the study, it might be helpful to read it.

    I think this is where the wood burning ordinance was a few years ago, it took some time, but a reasonable ordinance got implemented, I think you’ll see the same here. That’s the movement really acorss the state.

  6. rusty49

    DUH! Reduce or ban anything and there will be less of it.

    Michael Bisch, great post. There’s a lot more to the equation than just less bags seen around town. What will the affect be on business? Is the trade off worth the convenience and cost put on the customer?

  7. Robb Davis

    Hey Michael – You wrote: “I think Robb’s point is we don’t know that the SJ ordinance is working.”

    That was not my main point. My main point is that we will not know if something is working or not unless we commit to collecting data. However, you are correct that data of this kind does not “stand alone.” It must always be analyzed in reference to some target–some objective that has been set. Despite the upbeat nature of the summary report published here, I am really in no position to assess whether it has been successful since I do not know what the objectives were. I have not read the full report–which, I assume, would give me a sense of the answer.

    I am merely calling for a commitment to collecting data around key program/policy issues (or using extant data as I suggested in relation to 2nd Street crossing) to assess their value or success.

  8. Don Shor

    From the linked report:
    “Findings also suggest that most stores (55-63 percent) are supplying the recycled content paper bags, but the percent of stores supplying thicker plastic bags (which meet the definition of “reusable bag”) at no charge has nearly doubled (15 percent to 29 percent) over the past eight months. [b]Businesses may be transitioning over to the thicker plastic (reusable) bags to avoid the additional requirements (e.g. charging customers, itemized receipts, record keeping) associated with providing recyclable paper bags.”[/b]

    Emphasis added.

  9. DT Businessman

    Robb, I don’t think there’s much, if any, daylight between your comments and mine. That said, I’m not nearly as data driven as you are. The data requirements for various policy decisions vary dramatically. On bag ban policy, I don’t need any further data to tell me that reducing plastic bags in our waste stream is a worthy objective. Nor do I need additional data to tell me that a ban leads to less plastic bag waste generation. My instincts tell me, however, that our limited resources can be put to better use and achieve significantly higher returns in waste generation reduction through alternative programs. This is where cost/benefit and opportunity cost analysis would come in handy. However, if the plastic bag ban proponents wish to volunteer their time to reduce the use of plastic bags, I’ll be one of their top cheerleaders. I don’t need an analysis to tell me that a volunteer effort has low cost.

    Contrary to my position, the ban proponents consistently transmitted the message that reducing plastic bag use is good (agreed), proposed a fairly problematic ordinance to achieve the objective (bad), disregarded ordinance flaws brought to their attention (not helpful), made very questionable statements to support their position (counter productive), disregarded alternative means to achieve the same objective (why?), never adequately addressed the cost/benefit or the opportunity costs given our steadily decreasing resources (again, why?).

    -Michael Bisch

    -Michael Bisch

  10. Jcat

    It is relevant to know what progressive moves other cities are making, and of course it is relevant to see how successful that move was. It would be equally relevant to stand at a check-out at any local grocery store or Target (yikes!) to see how many people do not bring their own bags. A community should never think it is too intelligent to make strides in their policies.

    Being from San Jose, I am very proud that they made such a successful stride for the environment! Thanks for posting it!

  11. Don Shor

    To the city council,
    I suggest reworking the reusable bag ordinance to remove all references to paper bags except as follows:

    [i]Stores shall be allowed to provide paper bags of recycled material at a cost of no more or less than 10 cents each. [/i]

    Enforcement to be complaint-based only. No staff time for enforcement other than in response to public complaints. No requirement for record-keeping of any kind by the stores.

  12. 2cowherd

    I disagree Don. I think monitoring and enforcement are the primary way we are going to know if an ordinance is having the desired effect.

    This goes back to Robb’s initial comment. We will only know if an ordinance is working if we collect evidence.

  13. Robb Davis

    Fair enough Michael. I was using this posting to press a point about data collection. I may not be as data driven as I seem. I am just trying to get us to think about this more. I see an overall dearth of data collection on a number of issues and we set goals without collecting any information (or even having a plan to collect information) to see if we are reaching them. That is my point. I am not going to pound the table asking for “hard data” for each and every issue but I think we can do better. Okay, I will stop hijacking this thread with comments about data collection. Thanks for your patience.

  14. Don Shor

    2cowherd: So, should we assign staff resources to enforcement? Then should we increase staff for this purpose? If not, should we redirect staff from other priorities for this purpose? Is this a compelling issue of public concern that requires the expenditure of city funds to achieve the goals?
    I suggest that the problem isn’t of a sufficient magnitude to pay people to go out and watch shopper behavior (which is what San Jose did). Just banning plastic bags will reduce the problem of plastic bags. The big issue I have with the proposal before the council is the paper bag enforcement mechanism.
    Keep it simple and you’ll achieve your goals more readily and at less cost. Note the change in store behavior I highlighted above. Reduce the incentive for merchants to make that shift by reducing the hassle factor. There is a tendency to over-think these things and try to micro-manage behavior. Incentivize customers and store owners and you’ll get results at less cost to the taxpayers.

  15. alanpryor

    [quote]“Is this the best use of our limited time and other resources in reducing waste generation, i.e. is this the greatest bang for the buck? Staff all along said “no”. And I never heard/saw a compelling response from the proponents.”[/quote]

    This was an incorrect statement. Staff was actually supportive of the proposed ordinance in its final form as is clear from their report sent to Council recommending approval. Staff did not say this was NOT the greatest bang for the buck. Rather, it was Dan Wolk who simply posed the question from the dais when they matter was before them in the fall. In fact, the implementation costs for the City were almost nil. All they have to do is notify the affected stores.

    It is also important to realize that the ordinance that was proposed only covered about 40 of the largest grocery, liquor, drug, and convenience stores in town that supplied an estimated 90% of plastic bags in Davis. There were only two stores in the DDBA (one convenience and one liquor store) that were even affected. Neither they nor any of the other stores affected by the proposed ordinance registered a single complaint in writing or at any of the 7 public meetings held about the issue.

    In fact, Westlake Market publicly said they supported the ordinance as did a representative from the California Grocers Association on a number of occasions. Davis Coop has already eliminated plastic bags voluntarily for years and they seem to have survived quite nicely.

    So who did object? Well, Michael Bisch was a vocal opponent saying we were going to drive business to Woodland, Dixon, or West Sac but never offered a shred of evidence to support that claim. Newsbeat and Ace Hardware both spoke repeatedly about the hardships this ordinance would impose, their costs of compliance, and the negative effects it could have on business. But then they both acknowledged that they would not even be affected by the ordinance. What’s with that?

    So it seems that 1) none of the stores in Davis that would be affected by the proposed ordinance have objected, 2) the only objections that have been brought up are by stores or parties unaffected by the ordinance, and 3) the cost to implement the ordinance by the City is negligible. Given that, I can only presume that objections raised by detractors are more philosophically-based on the fact that this is another government regulation being imposed rather than based on the fact that the ordinance will cost them or the City any money.

    I mean, c’mon folks….Over 60 other cities and counties in California have implemented almost identical ordinances over the last several years. Dozens of countries worldwide have implemented plastic bag bans. Even Haiti now has a plastic bag ban in place and they are arguably the poorest country in the world.

  16. Don Shor

    [i]3) the cost to implement the ordinance by the City is negligible.
    [/i]
    What is the cost to implement the ordinance?

    [i]But then they both acknowledged that they would not even be affected by the ordinance. What’s with that?[/i]
    Not speaking for them, but the fact that San Francisco broadened its ordinance to cover all retailers might be a factor.
    [url]http://www5.sfgov.org/sf_news/2012/10/green-initiative-citys-expanded-checkout-bag-ordinance-takes-effect.html[/url]: “[b]All retailers[/b] are now required to stop distribution of single use plastic checkout bags. Additionally they must charge 10 cents for each paper or reusable checkout bag they give out.”

  17. alanpryor

    [quote]What is the cost to implement the ordinance?[/quote]

    Implementation by the City will only require a letter to each store informing them of the new ordiancne – probably the City would want to send it certified to ensure the stores were properly noticed. The City has already identified the 40+ stores that would be affected and has the names in a database that could presumably be used to generate form letters and mailing envelopes. So minimal implementation costs would be about $2.00 per letter for certified postage and a $.20 for the envelope and paper to print the letter/envelope. So hard costs for sending 40 letters would be around $100 (not counting Staff time remembering they are salaried). Outreach could be left up to the affected stores with posters on their entrance windows advising of the new change.

  18. DT Businessman

    Alan, once again your zeal is leading you to make a number of false statements. I shall cite just one to prove my point:

    “Well, Michael Bisch was a vocal opponent saying we were going to drive business to Woodland, Dixon, or West Sac but never offered a shred of evidence to support that claim.” -Alan Pryor

    This statement is false. Please supply the quote where I made any such claim.

    -Michael Bisch

  19. DT Businessman

    “Is this the best use of our limited time and other resources in reducing waste generation, i.e. is this the greatest bang for the buck? Staff all along said “no”. And I never heard/saw a compelling response from the proponents.” -Michael Bisch

    I stand by this comment. Staff have said in public meetings that crafting, implementing and monitoring/enforcing a plastic bag ban ordinance is not the best use of their time. They have gone on to say there are programs with with a better cost/benefit ratio.

    -Michael Bisch

  20. alanpryor

    [quote]To Michael Bisch re: “This statement is false. Please supply the quote where I made any such claim.”[/quote]

    It appears that I “may” have wrongfully attributed the quote re sales leakage to you personally rather than to the Director of the DDBA who spoke at the March 26, 2012 meeting of the NRC.

    As reported in my article in the Vanguard on March 27 (https://davisvanguard.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5212:nrc-moves-proposed-single-use-bag-ordinance-forward&catid=53:land-useopen-space&Itemid=86),

    [i]“Also opposed was the Director of the Davis Downtown Business Association who claimed that the proposed ordinance could result in sales leakage to adjacent cities that did not have such restrictive and inconvenient ordinances. In response to a question from the Commission, though, he indicated that very few of his organization’s members were affected by the ordinance but also indicated the members were fearful that the proposed ordinance would be expanded in the future….The NRC also received written comments from the President of the DDBA and from Davis Ace Hardware questioning whether implementation of the ordinance would result in loss of sales to neighboring cities and the difficulties retailers are facing in a prolonged recessionary environment.”[/i]

    I do not presently have a copy of the letter the DDBA submitted and it was not included in the agenda packet because it was received too late. I did retain a copy of the Ace Hardware letter, though, in which Jenniefer Anderson also stated,

    [quote]“Banning plastic bags will drive our shoppers out of town….Woodland and West Sacramento offer similar stores and they will have plastic bags. Do NOT drive Sales and Sales Tax income out of town”.[/quote]

    I note that I also stated in that Vanguard article that,

    [i]”Discussion among the Commissioners then took place where it was noted that there were no representatives from businesses that were actually impacted by the proposed ordinance that spoke in opposition.”[/i]

    In the blog comments following the articles, you stated,

    [quote]“This comment is simply beyond the pale. Alan, on who’s behalf do you think the DDBA executive director was speaking on? His family’s?”. [/quote]

    I note, however, that you did not take this blogging opportunity to disavow my statement indicating that the DDBA Director has said that their would be sales leakage to other communities. In any event, I would very much like to obtain a copy of your above-referenced letter to Staff. Please send it to me at ozone21@att.net and I will post a public apology if I wrongly attributed a quote re: sales leakage to you. My recollection was that sales leakage was a prominent excuse offered by the DDBA in your letter opposing the single-use bag ordinance just as it was offered as an excuse by the Director of the DDBA at the NRC meeting and Jennifer Anderson in her letter to Staff.

    But are you otherwise stating that the DDBA now believes that there would NOT be any sales leakage to other communities as your statements seem to imply? If so, this would be consistent with another comment I made in that March 27, 2012 Vanguard article,

    [i]“It was also noted that discussions with cities that had implemented similar ordinance in years past indicated they had NOT experienced any noticeable sales leakage to adjacent jurisdictions as a result of their ordinances. For instance, the Director of Sustainability and the Director of the Farmers Market in Santa Monica stated that their implementation of their single-use bag ordinances actually enhanced their reputation as a desirable, environmentally-friendly shopping destination.”[/i]

  21. alanpryor

    To: Michael Bisch re: [quote]I stand by this comment. Staff have said in public meetings that crafting, implementing and monitoring/enforcing a plastic bag ban ordinance is not the best use of their time. They have gone on to say there are programs with with a better cost/benefit ratio.[/quote]

    To paraphrase you, [i]”This statement is false. Please supply the quote where Staff made any such claim.”[/i]

  22. DT Businessman

    I’m participating here as an individual. The quotes above are from your inaccurate reporting, not from the individuals you cite. You attribute comments incorrectly. For instance, who’s this DDBA “President” you refer to writing about sales leakage to other communities? I think you have your organizations and individuals all mixed up. Your reporting then and now is muddled and thereby supporting my statement made at 9:09am. What a mess.

    And your asking me to dig out a letter pertaining to your proposed ordinance, that was in your commission packet, to support your assertions, do I have that right?

    “Implementation by the City will only require a letter to each store informing them of the new ordinance” -Alan Pryor

    Let’s take another crack at Don’s question. Alan, what is the total accrued cost to date of developing the ordinance including staff time, facility use, etc? And what is the estimated cost to complete the ordinance?

    -Michael Bisch

  23. rusty49

    I have to laugh that staff time isn’t counted because they’re salaried. So what would they be doing otherwise, sitting around? I’m sure they have other more important functions they could be performing besides wasting hours staffing the ban on plastic bags.

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