Businesses experience smooth implementation of county plastic bag ban

Taylor A. Vega/Staff

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City and county officials report that Alameda County’s single-use plastic bag ban has been successfully implemented without any major obstacles since it took effect in January.

While the ordinance requires businesses to keep exact records of paper bags purchased, store owners and employees report that the task has not been significantly detrimental to business operations. Many stores, including large chains and small businesses, report that the transition to phase out plastic bags was accompanied by either no inconveniences or only minor ones.

Richard Pilara, the store manager for Trader Joe’s Berkeley location, said customers were generally pleased with the move toward eliminating plastic waste. Mike Vubi, an employee at Fred’s Market on Telegraph Avenue, reported that some of his customers were initially frustrated about having to pay for their own bags, but he has since seen an increase in customers with reusable bags.

A shift supervisor at a CVS pharmacy on Shattuck Avenue said it was easy to obtain recyclable paper bags from the corporation. At Safeway, employees who work checkout registers simply punch in the number of paper bags sold, which is then itemized separately on the receipts. Customers themselves do the same at the self-checkout kiosks.

Only retailers who sell packaged food must comply with the ban, while restaurants, take-out food joints and certain charitable stores are exempt. Berkeley unsuccessfully attempted to expand the ban to include all nonrestaurant businesses at various times last year. The proposal would have increased the number of stores in the city affected by the law from 90 to 709.

So far, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority has not issued any fines or warnings to businesses, despite some initial complaints from businesses in January.

According to a ACWMA spokesperson Jeff Becerra, several hundred stores have been randomly checked by county and city enforcement officers to ensure retailers are following the ordinance’s protocol. As an extra measure, there is also a noncompliance-reporting form that customers can fill out online if they notice stores distributing single-use carry-out bags, failing to charge 10 cents for each paper bag or forgetting to itemize the number of paper bags on receipts.

Despite the ban on plastic bags in many businesses, environmental problems stemming from their continued use remain. Improperly recycled plastic bags can become trapped in machinery in processing plants meant to recycle bottles and cans, according to Sue Vang, a policy associate with Californians Against Waste.

In the coming months, the ACWMA plans to aggregate data from retailers to find out if single-use paper bag consumption is on the decline, Becerra said. With the 10-cent charge, county authorities hope customers make the permanent shift to reusable canvas grocery bags.

Contact Kimberly Veklerov at [email protected].