Plastic carryout shopping bags would be prohibited in San Diego if an ordinance advanced by a City Council committee today ultimately passes.
The Natural Resources and Culture Committee voted 2-1 to forward the proposed law to the incoming city attorney for a legal analysis before the issue goes before the full City Council.
Councilman Kevin Faulconer cast the dissenting vote, saying he wants to explore alternatives that favor recycling over an outright ban on plastic carryout shopping bags.
"I do have concerns on how this will impact consumers and how this will
impact cost,'' Faulconer said.
Councilwoman Donna Frye argued that something needs to be done to help stop the proliferation of plastic in the environment.
"The fact of the matter is that when you think that almost every single piece of the planet probably has a piece of plastic on it, at some level you have to start asking yourself 'is that the kind of planet we want to pass on to our kids?' " Frye said.
The proposed law would prohibit supermarkets and pharmacies from providing plastic carryout bags to customers, beginning July 1, to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags. Customers could also opt to pay a 25-cent per-bag fee for paper carryout bags.
Similar laws have already been enacted in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Malibu and Manhattan Beach. Encinitas is the only other city in San Diego County considering prohibiting plastic carryout bags.
Outgoing City Council President Scott Peters said he supports a ban on plastic bags to help keep San Diego's beaches clean, but expressed concern about exposing the city to litigation.
"This is a difficult time for the city to be taking on costs, and I take very seriously the threat of litigation and the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) compliance issues," Peters said.
A ban on carryout plastic bags in Oakland was recently overturned due to the lack of an environmental review.
Mayor Jerry Sanders does not support the proposed law due to the threat of litigation and because of the potential impacts it will have on small businesses, a mayoral policy adviser testified.
Danielle Miller, with San Diego Coastkeeper, said plastic bags often end up in the ocean, where they damage the ecosystem. She said volunteers with Coastkeeper have removed 12,000 plastic bags over the past two years from city beaches.
"Many of these bags actually get blown into the ocean or they get washed down storm drains, where they impact the ocean environment negatively," Miller told the City Council committee.
The American Chemistry Council's Jennifer Forkish called for more time to consider alternatives to a ban on plastic bags.
She said plastic bags use far less energy to create than paper bags, which are also much more costly.
"A ban on plastic retail bags would naturally force retailers to use alternative bags, namely paper," Forkish said. "These products are three to five times more expensive, which means higher operating costs for stores and higher prices for their customers.
"Businesses and consumers cannot afford higher costs during these difficult economic times,'' she said.
It's unclear when the ordinance will go before the full City Council for consideration, but Frye requested that it be heard within 90 days after the new city attorney has had a chance to review the issue.