Single-use plastic bag ban OKd

Laguna Beach retail customers need to begin collecting reusable shopping bags to prepare for a ban on single-use, carry-out plastic bags and a fee of 10 cents per paper bag starting Jan. 1, 2013.

The City Council on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that will ban retail establishments from packing merchandise in recyclable plastic bags that environmentalists contend are damaging to the environment and its denizens.

"One World One Ocean is a multimedia campaign ... with the goal of restoring the ocean," said Barbara MacGillivray in support of the ordinance. "We would love to put on our website that Laguna is leading the way on cleaning the ocean."

The council was undeterred by a legal issue recently raised.

"Yesterday, the city received a letter from an organization called Save the Plastic Bag Coalition that raised a legal issue concerning a rather obscure notion of pre-emption — that is, whether there is state law that limits the city's ability to adopt regulations," said City Attorney Philip Kohn.

"Specifically, the claim was made in respect to the portion of the ordinance that would apply to the use of single-use bags at restaurants."

Kohn, who elicited derisive laughter from the audience when he announced the name of the group that raised the issue, said he would need some time to study the claim. He advised the council it could revise the ordinance at the second reading, if necessary.

Mayor Jane Egly announced that San Francisco earlier in the day approved the ban at restaurants.

"That could be the test case," said Egly, an attorney.

Surfrider Foundation spokesman Chad Nelson said restaurants should be included.

"The industry is making a last-gasp effort, and I urge you to resist fear mongering," Nelson said.

As approved Tuesday by the council, Laguna Beach retail establishments will be required to provide customers with reusable or paper bags made with at least 40% post-consumer recycled material.

Retail establishments are defined as any person, business or service that, directly to a consumer, sells or provides merchandise or goods, including clothing, food or personal items.

The ordinance requires grocery stores and pharmacies to charge 10 cents for recycled paper bags, with the money to be kept by the retailer.

Exemptions to the ban include produce or product plastic bags used to collect or transport products inside the retail establishment.

Retailers who can demonstrate undue economic hardship in complying with the ordinance due to unique circumstances or situations specific to the establishment may ask to be exempted. Exemption may be considered if no reasonable alternatives to single-use plastic bags can be determined.

Violators will first receive a written warning, followed by fines of $100, $200 and $500 for subsequent complaints.

Starting enforcement next year allows the city time to educate consumers and for small businesses to prepare for the ban.

Public education will be paid for by an appropriation of $5,000 from the general fund balance to supplement water quality education material costs.

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