The Morgan Hill City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to enact two ordinances prohibiting the use of single-use carryout plastic bags and plastic foam packaging material commonly referred to as Styrofoam.
The ordinances are scheduled to go into effect Earth Day, April 22, 2014, after City staff conduct outreach and education to inform businesses of the new regulations.
The plastic bag ordinance prohibits carryout bags distributed “at the point of sale,” excluding produce and meat bags, according to City staff. The law will require retailers and grocers to charge a minimum fee of 10 cents per paper bag or reusable bag if customers request paper bags when purchasing groceries or carryout items.
The proposed ordinance also “clearly allows reusable bags to be used by shoppers and sold by stores,” and it excludes temporary events like the farmers market and Taste of Morgan Hill. Restaurants are also excluded from the proposed regulations.
Councilman Rich Constantine made a motion to exempt small businesses from the requirement to charge 10 cents per paper or reusable bag, but that motion failed.
The five-member Council then voted unanimously in favor of a motion by Councilman Larry Carr to approve the ordinance as proposed, with the addition of an amendment to allow retailers and grocery stores to give away paper or reusable bags for special “promotional” events.
Constantine argued that, based on his own recent discussions with some small business owners in Morgan Hill, charging 10 cents per bag might be a burden and an inconvenience to customers.
“Charging 10 cents for a paper bag is not going toward the ultimate goal” of reducing the presence of plastic bags in landfills and wildlife and on roadsides, Constantine said.
The plastic foam or expanded polystyrene (EPS) ban prohibits the distribution of containers made of the material from all food vendors and establishments in Morgan Hill, according to City staff.
The plastic bags and EPS materials commonly end up in landfills, on the side of the road and in waterways, resulting in long-lasting harm to the environment, according to a City staff report.
The ordinances follow a growing trend throughout the state to reduce and prohibit the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene (EPS), food containers, according to a City staff report.
The Council and staff started to consider adopting such ordinances more than a year ago, based on recommendations from the Santa Clara County Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission and area environmental advocates. But they wanted to hold off to see the impact of the ordinances in other cities in Santa Clara County.
The ordinances approved by the Council Wednesday are modeled after those in other nearby cities, according to the staff report.
No members of the public spoke in opposition to the proposed ordinances before the Council’s approval Wednesday.
Letters submitted to the Council from the American Chemistry Council, California Restaurant Association and a handful of residents expressed opposition to all or parts of the ordinance proposals.
Downtown businesses contacted Monday shared mixed feelings on the proposed material bans, while grocery shoppers expressed support ranging from tepid to enthusiastic.
“It’s good for the environment, but horrible for people like me who carry a lot of groceries,” said Sacramento resident Justin Fields, who was shopping at the Safeway grocery store on East Dunne Avenue Tuesday afternoon.
Other shoppers said they already have a stock of reusable grocery bags, but the hard part is remembering to take these bags with them when they go shopping.
“It seems like a good idea. San Jose is doing it so we can too,” said Carolyn Henry of Morgan Hill, who was also shopping at Safeway Tuesday.
Some retailers in downtown Morgan Hill are worried about how their customers might respond to the lack of a carryout bag, or the request for a 10-cent fee per paper bag they need.
“It’s something else that people are going to be annoyed about,” said Gina Andrade, owner of Just G’s Boutique on Monterey Road. Andrade said she has looked into replacing her typical plastic bags that she provides customers, but paper alternatives are “a lot more expensive.”
Patty Curtis, owner of Carta Luna clothing and gift shop on Monterey Road, provides paper carryout bags already, but she disagrees with the effort to enforce a plastic bag ban on all retailers.
“Businesses are not doing so good (downtown) that we need to alienate our customers,” Curtis said. “If they buy $200 worth of stuff (for example), they’ll feel insulted if you ask for 10 cents for a bag.”
City staff have spent the last few months conducting surveys and outreach meetings for the general public as well as the business community to gauge their reaction to the proposed plastic and EPS bans. The staff report says these efforts produced scant attendance and limited response, particularly from businesses.
A survey of establishments in Morgan Hill showed that 63 percent of the 92 businesses who responded currently use EPS containers, and 42 percent were concerned about a potential ordinance prohibiting the material.
“Of those respondents explaining their concerns, the most common responses were potential additional expense and the efficacy of alternative products,” the City staff report said. “Other communities have found that affordable alternative products are available and perform adequately.”
According to a recent San Jose city staff report cited by Morgan Hill staff:
-EPS accounts for about 7.8 percent of the trash in the Bay Area storm water systems.
-San Jose’s experience with its existing plastic bag ordinance shows the use of the carryout bags could decline by 90 percent, and reduce the presence of plastic bags in local creeks by 50 percent if the material is prohibited.
-Of the 20 billion plastic bags distributed annually in California, about .1 percent or 20 million are distributed in Morgan Hill, according to a Morgan Hill staff report which cites a study by ICF International.