Plastic bag ban to be developed

Single-use plastic bags were put on the endangered list Tuesday, earning applause from environmentalists.

The City Council voted unanimously, with overwhelming support from the audience, to direct staff to get to work on an ordinance banning the bags in Laguna. The ordinance will be modeled on one passed in Manhattan Beach, which the California Supreme Court ruled complied with the state Environmental Quality Act.

"I encourage the council to move forward on this," said Max Iles, sporting a Ban the Bag T-shirt. "A lot of people want to see it happen."

No one spoke in opposition to the proposed ban, which has the goal of encouraging shoppers to take their own reusable bags to the store.

"My concern is that people now using plastic bags will use paper bags, and that is not good for the environment," said Councilwoman Verna Rollinger.

Monica Finkestein showed graphic and heartbreaking photos of birds and sea creatures that had ingested or were entangled in plastic.

"The public has to see this," said a deeply touched Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson.

John Stalker showed the contents of a stomach from a necropsy at the Pacific Marine Mammal Center.

"The bags can be mistaken for a squid," he said.

Most of the speakers also encouraged the council to put a fee on the use of paper bags to discourage their use.

"My daughter and I traveled all over Italy, and we couldn't get a (plastic) bag for anything," Rollinger said. "We only had to carry groceries home in our arms once. You learn quickly, and we made sure we had a big bag when we went shopping."

Besides serving as a reminder, the fees also make the city's declaration against negative impacts on the environment stronger, said Chad Nelsen of the Surfrider Foundation.

"We will take what you guys do here to inland cities and say, 'Look, Laguna is pushing forward,'" said Surfrider Rick Erkeneff. "We can use that to influence other cities up the watershed."

Stephanie Barger said plastic bags should be banned in all retail outlets.

City staff proposed exempting the Farmer's Market from the ban, which uses plastic produce bags.

Councilwoman Jane Egly opposed the exemption, although produce wrapped in plastic in markets was not mentioned in the discussion.

City Environmental Specialist Michael Phillips said proposed implementation of the plastic bag ordinance will mirror the introduction of the ban on single-use Styrofoam containers in Laguna.

Affected businesses were given six months to exhaust their inventory of the banned materials. Hardship cases were reviewed before a progressive enforcement program was put into place. Violators were warned before fines were levied.

A workshop for impacted businesses, including restaurants that use plastic for carry-out orders or leftovers, will be held before staff presents a draft ordinance to the council.

The draft will be based on the Manhattan Beach model.

"Basically, the court said Manhattan Beach is a small town and the restriction on plastic bags won't make a big difference, which was good for us," Water Quality Director David Shissler said after the court made its ruling.

The city's Environmental Committee proposed the ban to the council in 2009. It was in limbo until the court ruling.

Committee recommendations include prohibitions on single-use carryout bags — those with handles, Phillips said — for all retail establishments except when used for take-out food to be eaten off the premises; fines for violations; and a requirement that grocery stores and pharmacies provide customers with reusable paper bags.

The bag must be composed of 100% recycled material, with a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content, for which a fee must be charged and indicated on a transaction receipt.

Drug stores by law must package prescriptions in paper bags to protect patient privacy, according to pharmacy owner Sheila Bushard.

For more information on the proposed ordinance, call Phillips at (949) 494-0309.

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