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A paper bag holds an array of groceries. Encinitas will look at drafting an ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags and charge 10 cents per paper bag, as suggested by the Encinitas Environmental Commission. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
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Encinitas closer to voting on plastic bag ban ordinance

ENCINITAS — A potential ban of single-use plastic bags has been on the table for a while, but recently became more of a priority. 

Last week, Deputy Mayor Lisa Shaffer requested that council vote on an ordinance scrapping plastic bags in the not-too-distant future. Councilman Tony Kranz seconded the motion.

In an interview several days after the meeting, Shaffer said environmental problems stemming from plastic bags prompted her to place the item on an agenda.

“There’s lots of evidence that they’re bad for the environment,” Shaffer said. “They end up in the ocean and in the landfill.”

Reusable bags have become increasingly popular in the past few years, and Shaffer said a ban would accelerate the trend.

Still, she said her support for a ban is only “theoretical” at this point, because the ordinance language hasn’t been finalized. To be in favor of a ban, the ordinance must make certain exceptions — for example, allowing plastic bags for meats to keep them separate from other groceries, she said.

Following City Council action this spring, the Encinitas Environmental Commission developed elements of a potential ban ordinance. Armed with the commission’s recommendations, the council will decide in the next month or so whether to order a full-blown ordinance, according to Richard Phillips, Encinitas Environmental Commission coordinator.

If it opts to request a complete ordinance, city staff will come back with final language for an up or down vote at an undetermined time, Phillips said.

He said the commission’s recommendations thus far look similar to Solana Beach’s plastic bag ban, which was approved last year. Namely, plastic bags would be eliminated from most businesses, and recycled paper bags would cost 10 cents each.

The fee is intended to discourage consumers from buying paper bags; money collected stays with the businesses. The commission’s draft language calls for the ban to be implemented in large grocery stores and retailers first, and subsequently in other businesses and farmers markets. Restaurants would be exempt.

Former Solana Beach Mayor Celine Olson was originally for the ban, but later came out against it. She said plastic bags are easier to carry than reusable and paper bags.

“For senior citizens, it’s hard to carry reusable bags packed completely full,” she said, adding that the 10-cent fee is a burden on those who forget their bags or don’t have enough of them.

John Najjar, owner of Seaside Market in Cardiff, agreed that plastic bags cause environmental issues. However, he fears a bag ban could place an unfair tax on customers.

Najjar said a ban is a waste of resources given the time required to pass an ordinance. Also, he said consumers and businesses are already moving toward fewer plastic bags.

“We hear our customers loud and clear,” Najjar said, noting that Seaside promotes reusable bags, selling them below cost. And Seaside makes a concerted effort to cut down on plastic packaging for deli products and other items, he said.

He added that a ban could drive more consumers to choose paper bags, which are worse for the environment, according to some studies.

Bag bans have gained popularity throughout the state and county. Recently, a city of San Diego committee approved a ban, sending the ordinance for a final San Diego City Council vote in nine months.

Several days before the subcommittee vote, the nonprofit Equinox Center released a study concluding that the proposed San Diego ordinance would decrease the number of single-use plastic bags in the city of San Diego by 70 percent.

The center found that 500 million of the bags are used in city of San Diego annually. That number would drop by 350 million if the proposed ordinance were in place, it goes on to state. The report also noted that consumers and retailers wouldn’t suffer a measurable economic hit as a result of eliminating bags.

Averaging data from plastic-bag bans in Santa Monica and the county of Los Angeles, reusable bag usage increased by 40 percent after the ordinances passed. But the bans also led to a 16 percent up-tick in paper bags, according to the report.

In California, 64 ordinances eliminating plastic bags have passed, covering 44 percent of the state’s population.

Chris Kato, a policy analyst with Equinox Center, stated that it’s possible the organization could weigh in with a study tailored to Encinitas once it takes a look at the city’s ordinance language.

In 2008, Encinitas moved to ban plastic bags, but reversed course when the plastic bag industry threatened litigation, arguing the city needs to complete a costly environmental impact report. But that view might not carry water anymore.

The California Supreme Court ruled about a month ago that Marin County did not have to submit an environmental impact report to prohibit plastic bags. As a result, Phillips said it’s likely that Encinitas won’t have to complete its own environmental impact report.

Last spring, a bill calling for the end of plastic bags statewide didn’t have enough votes to become law. However, efforts are gearing up to bring the bill before the California Legislature again. As well as eventually weighing in on a citywide ban, the Encinitas City Council will mull over a resolution supporting a state ban on Nov. 13.