On September 25, 2012, the City Council directed staff to contract with ESA to do an Initial Study/Negative Declaration for the City of Davis Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance, in compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and State CEQA Guidelines.
“The City of Davis has prepared a draft Initial Study and intends to adopt a Negative Declaration for the Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance. Friday, January 25 marked the start of the 30 day public review period, which ends at 4:30pm on February 25, 2013,” according to a communication from Utilities Manager Jacques DeBra.
“On December 6, 2011, the City adopted a Zero Waste Resolution in which the City strives to implement zero waste strategies,” the city writes. “It is the desire of the City of Davis to conserve resources, reduce GHG emissions, waste, litter and pollution. The use of single-use shopping bags (plastic, paper, and biodegradable) have negative environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, litter, water consumption, solid waste generation and effects on wildlife.”
The city adds, “From an overall environmental and economic perspective, the best alternative to single-use plastic and paper carry-out bags is a shift to reusable bags. Studies and impacts from similar policies adopted in other jurisdictions document that restricting plastic bags and placing fees on paper bags will dramatically reduce the use of both types of bags.”
“Despite their lightweight and compact characteristics, plastic bags disproportionately impact the solid waste and recycling stream and persist in the environment even after they have broken down,” the city continues. “Even when plastic bags are disposed of properly, they often become litter due to their aerodynamic nature. The bags can be blown out of the landfill by the wind. Plastic litter not only causes visual blight, but can potentially harm wildlife.”
At the local level, many cities and counties throughout California have adopted ordinances banning plastic bags, including San Francisco, San Jose, Long Beach, Los Angeles County, Santa Clara County, Alameda County and others.
The draft ordinance would apply to all grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and large drugstores, approximately 45 businesses. It would apply to all events held at city facilities. It restricts the distribution of single-use plastic bags and places a minimum 10 cent paper bag pass-through fee on all paper bags.
Reusable bags may be sold for no less than 10 cents, and cannot be given out for free (except during a time-limited promotion). And the city has produced low-income exemptions.
Applicable stores include all retail establishments, not including food vendors or restaurants, that provide “Single-Use Carryout Bags to its customers as a result of the sale of a product.” These include all supermarkets, convenience food stores, foodmart, or other entities that sell canned food, dry groceries, or perishable foods.
The full list of applicable stores is available here. Examples of non-applicable businesses include Davis Ace, Newsbeat, Watermelon Music, Ken’s Bike, Fleet Feet, Mother and Baby Source, Haute Again, Office Max and any restaurants.
The initial study by the city was completed this month.
The study finds, “In an effort to characterize carryout bag use within the City of Davis, staff conducted a survey at 6 large grocery stores in Davis in August 2012. At each store, five hundred shoppers were surveyed and the number of different bag types (plastic, paper, reusable, or no bag) that shoppers carried out of the store were counted. On average, 49.5% of carryout bags used were single use plastic, 20% were paper, 17.2% were reusable bags and 13.3% opted not to use bags.”
The study shows, “The results of the survey indicated that Davis residents already use single use carryout plastic bags at a lower rate compared to larger jurisdictions such as Los Angeles (where 96% of transactions involved single use plastic bags).”
The study found that according to the Yolo County Central Landfill, they estimate that “plastic bags make up approximately 50-60 percent of the litter and it was estimated that 1,815 man hours per year were spent picking up litter at the YCCL. This equates to roughly $34,000 a year spent for plastic bag litter clean up costs (City of Davis, March 26, 2012 NRC Staff Report).”
“Implementation of the proposed ordinance will result in the reduction of single use carryout bags from distribution and potentially reduce the amount of litter and associated aesthetic impacts and will not result in any new potentially significant aesthetics impacts,” the report finds.
The study also found, “Implementation of the proposed ordinance will have the direct physical impact of greatly reducing single-use carryout plastic bags from distribution within the City from approximately 45 larger retail establishments, and to be replaced with ‘recycled’ paper bags and reusable bags. While the exact number of carryout bags to be removed and replaced with paper or reusable bags is not known, plastic bags would not be replaced by paper bags on a one to one ratio since paper bags have a higher capacity.”
They continue: “In light of anticipated education efforts and the public’s existing concern for this issue, at least some percentage of plastic bags are expected to be replaced by reusable bags rather than paper bags.”
They find: “Any increase in the use of paper bags resulting from the proposed ordinance, coupled with any cumulative increase in paper bag use associated with the adoption of other similar ordinances from other jurisdictions located within the State of California, would be relatively small with a minimal increase in energy consumption. Any potential air quality impacts related to increased truck traffic associated with the distribution of carryout bags is expected to be less than significant.”
The study also finds: “Single-use carryout bags, when compared with reusable bags, have a much higher chance of becoming litter and entering creeks, streams, and other sensitive habitat. Implementation of the proposed ordinance would serve to reduce this type of litter and have a potentially beneficial effect to creeks, streams, and other sensitive habitat within and around the City of Davis.”
The study also expects a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as the result of the ordinance.
They write: “The data showed there was an overall reduction in the total number of carryout bags distributed and a shift to using reusable bags or no bags at all. Ultimately, Greenhouse Gas Emissions associated with the shift from plastic to paper and/or reusable bags were projected to decrease by over 20 percent (Santa Clara County, 2011). The data was considered to be conservative because it assumed that no recycling of paper bags occurred. Thus if the data was adjusted to account for existing recycling rates, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced further.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting