By Claire Harlin
For Solana Beach residents, that stash of used plastic shopping bags in the kitchen has dwindled, perhaps, and keeping reusable bags in the car has become the new routine — either that or just shopping in other communities instead. For some retailers, however, the post-Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance transition has not been as easy.
Adopted on May 9 as an expression of the City Council’s desire to conserve resources, lower emissions and reduce litter and marine pollution, the ban went into effect on Aug. 9 for the city’s larger retailers, such as grocery and convenient stores, and on Nov. 9, the rest — some 100 smaller vendors — will follow. According to the city, a yearly total of more than 6 million single-use carry-out bags will be eliminated as a result of pioneering this measure.
But that doesn’t have business owners such as Lau Voda, who runs the Minute Shops Liquor Store at 149 Lomas Santa Fe, convinced that the ban is good for the city. According to the ordinance, retailers may provide paper bags to customers, however, they must not charge less than 10 cents per bag.
“Customers keep complaining, especially because a lot of them walk or ride their bikes, so plastic is easier for them to carry out,” she said.
And when it comes to charging for paper bags, Voda said she has decided to scrap the ordinance altogether, even thought the ordinance states violations can be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.
“I quit charging. I’d rather take the fine because it’s not worth it for me to lose customers over 10 cents,” she said, adding that she called the city to let them know she was not charging.
“They said it’s my call, but encouraged me to recycle,” she said. “The customers appreciate what I’m doing for them. They tell me, ‘Thank you for feeling for us and not selling us this. We have 10 cents, but it’s the principle.’”
City manager David Ott said the city is not actively enforcing the “paper bag cost pass-through,” as it’s called in the ordinance, and will only confront a business if someone complains. In that case, he said the city “almost always” gives a warning first.
He said there has been a misconception that the city profits from the 10-cent paper bag fee, however, it goes directly to the retailer and the ordinance suggests retailers use that money to promote reusable bag sales by establishing an incentive program.
Andrea Knight, an assistant manager at Bevmo, located at 168 Solana Hills Drive, said her store has lost from 3 to 5 percent in sales since the ordinance went into effect.
“We get yelled at quite a bit, at least once a day,” she said. “People don’t see that it has to do with the city. They just look at the person in front of them.”
Knight said Bevmo has been providing cardboard boxes when possible because paper bags are often not sturdy or big enough for heavy bottles.
“People usually buy one or two bottles and they want their plastic bag,” she said. “A lot of people just go to the Encinitas store instead.”
Restaurants are exempt from the ban, pending ongoing statewide litigation that will ultimately decide whether bag bans are preempted by the California Retail Food Code.
Ott said the city has received both positive and negative feedback in regard to the ban. As people become used to the ordinance, the feedback has been increasingly positive, he said.
Once the ban is completely phased in, he said the City Council has the option of revisiting it and possibly making changes.
“We will give it six months and see how it is going,” Ott said.
To view the ordinance and answers to frequently asked questions, visit the city’s website at www.ci.solana-beach.ca.us and click on “Plastic Bag Use Reduction Ordinance” near the bottom of the page.
Questions can be directed to the city manager’s office at (858) 720-2477.