Berkeley City Council postpones vote on plastic bag ban

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Berkeley City Council postponed a vote Tuesday on a city ordinance that would expand Alameda County’s recently passed plastic bag ban until more information is obtained.

Although council members were supportive of the expansion of the single-use bag reduction ordinance at their meeting Tuesday night, they decided to revisit the issue at a later meeting after gathering additional data regarding the environmental and fiscal impacts.

“We’re doing the work so we can move this forward,” said Councilmember Jesse Arreguin at the meeting. “We can be a leader on this issue. Berkeley has a reputation of being a leader on environmental issues.”

Alameda County’s ban — which prohibits stores, including supermarkets and pharmacies, from giving away single-use plastic bags — does not include retailers that do not sell packaged food. Restaurants, take-out food establishments, retail stores and charitable thrift stores will not have to comply with the ban.

The recommendation for Berkeley’s city ordinance suggests expanding implementation to include “all retail nonrestaurant businesses.”

According to the recommendation, if Berkeley were to adopt a more comprehensive plastic bag ban, the ordinance would cover a total of 709 stores, excluding restaurants, compared to the 90 packaged food stores, as applicable through Alameda County’s ban.

However, the potential costs and necessary resources of undertaking such a project have drawn concerns from council members and city staff.

According to City Manager Christine Daniel, expanding the ban would cost approximately $170,000, and preparing the environmental impact report would cost $10,000.

“We have very limited staff resources, and we can’t just press ahead without listening to the staff, which is already pretty stretched,” said Councilmember Linda Maio at the meeting.

But according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, the cost of implementing the ban may not reach $170,000, and the city could consider different methods to gather additional funds for the ordinance to be more cost effective.

Alameda County’s plastic bag ban will go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The City Council will later discuss how to proceed with its citywide ordinance once the environmental impact report is completed.

Daphne Chen covers city government.