LIVE OAK — Environmental advocacy groups, residents and even a “Bag Monster” showed up at a community forum held by the Santa Cruz County Public Works Department on Wednesday to discuss a proposed plastic bag ban.
Save Our Shores, Ecology Action and the Surfrider Foundation were all on hand to talk with residents about the impact of plastic bags on the community and the environment. Advocates for the ban pointed out the harm to turtles that mistakenly ingest bags thinking they are jellyfish, and birds and other animals that get caught in them.
The proposed single-use bag reduction ordinance would ban all plastic bags at checkout in retail stores in unincorporated Santa Cruz County. Bags used inside a store, to hold produce or bread for example, would still be allowed. To use a paper bag, stores would charge customers a small fee, which would go directly to the store to help cover costs. An alternate version of the proposal would exclude take-out fast food from the ban.
County officials said the ban is necessary because, despite recycling programs, the majority of plastic bags are not recycled and they are not a good use of resources.
The “Bag Monster,” Norm Beeson, a Save Our Shores volunteer covered in 500 bags — the number of bags the group says the average American uses in a year — was a tangible reminder of how much plastic people use. Little more than his gold-rimmed glasses and white beard showed under his costume.
Beeson, who lives near Seacliff, decided to get involved with Save Our Shores four years ago after taking notice of all the trash on the beaches.
County Supervisor Mark Stone, who has championed the ordinance, says he got fed up waiting for the state to pass any regulations on plastic bags but he would have preferred a unified statewide ordinance instead of different laws in different communities.
“I see it as a burden on some businesses that operate throughout the state and need to comply with different laws,” Stone said. “One thing that is a side benefit, however, is that it should help some of our small businesses. New Leaf doesn’t use plastic, and they have to buy paper bags at higher cost than big groceries that can buy in bulk. So increasing reusable bag use should help them.”
Critics of the ban say plastic is being unfairly singled out, while paper can be just as detrimental to the environment in its own way.
“Where they have imposed bans, the vast majority of customers are still using paper bags,” said Richard Wieckowicz, a local resident who has been looking into the issue. “The real environmental impacts are not being considered.”
Plastics industry representatives say improved recycling programs are a better idea, and reusable bags, some of which a recent study by the Center for Consumer Freedom found to have excessive amounts of lead, are problematic.
“We found that a statewide ban could cost California an estimated 1,000 jobs,” said Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council. “Most people reuse the plastic bags they get at stores, so single-use’ is somewhat of a misnomer. A lot of reusable bags are made in China, and the ban could have a negative influence on employment.”
In the next few weeks an environmental impact report will be released, and a 30-day comment period will follow. The ordinance could then go to the Board of Supervisors by April, and, if approved, would take effect six months later.
All four cities in the county also are considering such a ban, though none has enacted one.