The City Council approved sweeping new environmental regulations Tuesday, unanimously passing bans on single-use plastic bags and foam products.
In nine months, grocery stores and other retailers will be outlawed from selling or providing plastic bags, with some exceptions for wet food or covering produce. Restaurants are exempt from the ban, a compromise that has helped cleared the way for similar bans in the county and other communities.
“We have the opportunity to demonstrate for own family and children ... that we must get away from single-use mentality,” Chris Reeves, an educator at Long Marine Lab, said in support of the ban.
The new rule, designed to reduce the amount of plastic bags found on beaches, streets and waterways, encourages retailers to sell or provide reusable bags. It requires retailers to charge customers 10 cents for each paper bag given away, and the city will review the effectiveness of the fee after a year.
Vice Mayor Hilary Bryant said, “We as a community need to be appreciative of businesses” having to implement the ban, which she acknowledged may be unpopular with some.
The city has a recycling rate of about 5 percent for plastic bags and 65 percent for paper bags.
The San Francisco-based Save the Bag Coalition has threatened to sue the city to raise the paper bag fee to 25 cents, as the county agreed to do in the ban's second year amid litigation from the group. The coalition also wants a full environmental analysis of the ban, arguing that paper production is more energy intensive than plastic bags.
Richard Wieckowicz, a retired physicist living in Aptos, repeated that claim Tuesday, saying paper mills are among the most prolific polluters.
“If ever there were an EIR needed,” it is needed for plastic bag bans, he said, referring to an environmental impact report that is more thorough than the negative declaration conducted by the city.
The ban on foam and polystyrene products covers shipping materials, coolers, egg cartons, plates, cups and toys. The city already bans foam packaging for takeout foods from restaurants.
“I can't tell you how much frustration I have walking into supermarkets and seeing stacks of Styrofoam,” said Dustin Macdonald, chair of the Santa Cruz chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.
The council also passed a rule that recycling of electronic materials, such as laptops and DVD players, be conducted by a certified provider.
A routine, final vote on the rules is likely July 24. The foam ban and recycling rule would go into effect within 30 days, but the council has OK'd a nine-month phase-in period for the bag ban.
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