Alameda County expands reusable bag law for eating establishments

Zahira Chaudhry /Staff

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Alameda County is expanding the reusable bag law beginning Wednesday to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags at eating establishments.

The new regulation extends the county’s reusable bag ordinance — which previously only affected grocery, drug, liquor and retail stores — to all businesses selling prepared food and beverages. These include restaurants, bars, cafés, food trucks, bakeries, cafeterias and food delivery services.

Jeff Becerra, spokesperson for the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, said the purpose of the law is to reduce plastic waste and litter that goes into local waterways and landfills.

Alameda County’s drug, liquor and grocery stores have been required to comply with the reusable bag law since January 2013, followed by retail stores since May 2017. According to Becerra, the county’s Waste Management Authority used this initial phase of the law’s rollout to experiment with the ordinance and study its results.

“Our data showed that there was an 80 percent decline in the number of single-use plastic bags purchased for distribution,” Becerra said. “There was quite a positive change, and as a result of that, our board brought up this new law.”

In addition to prohibiting the distribution of nonrecyclable plastic bags, the law states that reusable bags may be distributed at the cost of at least 10 cents each. The law also allows for recycled paper bags and protective plastic bags without handles.

Eating establishments that fail to abide by the new bag law are subject to fines ranging from $100 to $1,000, depending on the type and severity of the violation. According to Becerra, the county’s Waste Management Authority has an enforcement provision to provide these establishments with technical assistance if there is any confusion about the law.

“A lot of restaurants have been using paper bags and it’s been spreading,” said George Albergottie, an employee at Ladle & Leaf. “The whole company uses paper bags. It’s to be more eco-friendly and … supports saving the world. I don’t think it’ll create any problems for restaurants.”

According to the Waste Management Authority’s website, since the law’s implementation, the number of shoppers bringing their own reusable bags or no bag at all has more than doubled. There has also been a 44-percent decrease in plastic bags found in county storm drains.

Shaela Gorman, a fourth year campus student and CALPIRG member, said plastic waste is a huge problem, but that this ordinance is the first step to a waste-free world.

“It’s wonderful that California’s counties have all joined in this initiative — it just shows that we are the greenest state,” Gorman said. “We can’t live without (the environment). We want it to be as beautiful, as enjoyable as possible.”

Contact Jenny Weng at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jennyweng1999.

A previous version of this article misquoted Jeff Becerra as saying, ‘Our data showed that there was an 80 percent decline in the single-use of plastic bags that was purchased for distribution.’ In fact, Becerra said, ‘Our data showed that there was an 80 percent decline in the number of single-use plastic bags purchased for distribution.’