Alameda County to extend reusable bag law to retail stores, restaurants

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Ethan Epstein/Senior Staff

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Starting May 1, Alameda County will require retail stores to charge 10 cents per shopping bag and only distribute recycled-content paper or reusable plastic bags, according to a press release issued Monday by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority.

The new policy extends the county’s existing reusable bag ordinance — which affects grocery, drug and liquor stores — to retail stores and restaurants, the press release stated. Restaurants and food trucks will be required to implement the policy after Nov. 1. The bag fee must be itemized on receipts and is nontaxable, according to the press release.

“(The) financial incentive is really important, and it definitely changes consumers’ minds,” said Allegra Saggese, outreach coordinator for the Berkeley Student Food Collective, which is committed to providing local, fresh and environmentally sustainable food, according to its website.

Saggese added that waste reduction is the starting point to changing lifestyles. According to Saggese, plastic bags are both difficult and cost-ineffective to recycle. She said such bags do not biodegrade for “hundreds, if not thousands, of years.”

Alameda County’s drug, liquor and grocery stores have been required to comply with the reusable bag law as of January 2013, according to the press release. The expanded law will affect an additional 13,000 stores in the county.

Jeff Becerra, spokesperson for the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, said the policy was implemented in 2013 in a widespread effort to reduce litter in the county.

“We had collected data over the years, and it was successful,” Becerra said.

The data was obtained from 69 small and large chain stores and showed that 35 million fewer plastic bags were purchased by stores in 2015 in comparison to 2012. According to Becerra, the county has seen an 80 percent reduction in bag purchases since the policy was implemented.

Jeff Noven, operations manager for the Berkeley Student Food Collective, called the new policy a “launching pad” for more sustainable results.

Jonathan Lee, owner of the Stuffed Inn on Euclid Avenue, said that because people are used to the policy existing in grocery stores, it will not be difficult to expand to restaurants.

“People will … not want to pay 10 cents and not get a bag, and their food will spill in their car, and they will be unhappy,” Lee said. “They’ll learn, so I don’t foresee it being that big of a deal.”

Abraham Rodriguez, owner of Abe’s Cafe on Euclid Avenue, said that while he didn’t know that the new policy was going to take effect, he thinks it will be beneficial for the environment.

Becerra said the city of Berkeley will see fewer bags in waterways and a cleaner local environment.

“Welcome to being an environmentally conscious consumer and business owner,” Saggese said.

Contact Ahna Straube at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @akstraube.