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IWMA to consider plastic bag ban

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SLO County residents who have yet to give in to the reusable tote bag trend might soon be forced to.

At a meeting on Feb. 11, the Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) board of directors voted 9-4 to consider an ordinance that would ban the use of all carry-out plastic bags at point-of-sale establishments, including grocery and convenience stores, pharmacies, restaurants, and farmers' markets.

The ban would include single-use and thicker reusable plastic bags, along with those used for produce and newspapers, and customers could be charged 10 cents or more for recyclable paper bags. Although IWMA staff recommended including a prohibition on the plastic bags used to wrap meat at grocery stores and dry-cleaned clothes, board members said they'd want to see more research on possible alternatives to those plastics before approving such bans.

COLD HARD PLASTIC At a meeting on Feb. 11, the Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) board of directors voted 9-4 to consider an ordinance that would ban the use of all carry-out plastic bags. - PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • Photo By Kasey Bubnash
  • COLD HARD PLASTIC At a meeting on Feb. 11, the Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) board of directors voted 9-4 to consider an ordinance that would ban the use of all carry-out plastic bags.

Aside from SLO County Supervisors Lynn Compton, Debbie Arnold, and John Peschong, and Paso Robles City Councilmember John Hamon, a majority of IWMA board members expressed support for ridding the county of what they called unnecessary plastics that harm wildlife, can't be recycled, and disrupt the recycling processes of other products.

"This ordinance should be passed," Board member and Morro Bay City Councilmember Jeff Heller said at the Feb. 11 meeting. "This is low-hanging fruit."

We're lucky, according to board members, if plastic bags end up in the landfill. Otherwise, they're littering the streets and open spaces or are breaking down into chunks that often end up being eaten by animals and fish, which are then eaten by people.

Heller said that although SLO County does not recycle plastic bags, they frequently end up in blue bins and at the county's recycling facility, where the bags clog up sorting machines and cause other problems that take up significant staff time and attention.

"So when I see that clogged up machine, I see an inefficiency," Heller said.

A number of community members, many who threw out statistics about the negative impacts of plastics on the environment, agreed, and said during public comment that reusable cloth, mesh, and plant-based "plastic-like" produce bags are easy to find and inexpensive.

June Cochran noted a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which predicts that plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean by 2050.

"People can adapt," Cochran said at the meeting.

But a few community members, including Atascadero resident Gary Kirkland, said plastic bags are more cost efficient for businesses to use than paper, and that in a free country, the decision of what bags to use should be left up to individual businesses and consumers.

"If you choose not to use plastic," he said, "that's your choice."

Board members who opposed developing a ban on plastic bags took issue with the possible impacts to business owners, including the unlikely consequence of a misdemeanor and jail time for business owners caught distributing plastic bags. Others said that plastic products are too engrained in our world for the county ban on bags to have any tangible impact.

Most board members were concerned with food safety issues that could stem from banning meat bags. Those are issues IWMA staff hope to flesh out by April, when they plan to bring forth an ordinance for the board's consideration.

"I don't see this as an issue of freedom," board member and Paso Robles City Councilmember Charles Bourbeau said at the meeting. "I see it as a practical problem." Δ

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