Berkeley City Council addresses produce bags, sustainability regulations

photo of reusable grocery bags
Mr.TinDC/Creative Commons
Photo by MR.TinDC under CC BY-SA 2.0 The Berkeley City Council Facilities, Infrastructure, Transportation, Environment and Sustainability Committee’s meeting Wednesday explored proposals including raising the price of nonreusable grocery bags to 25 cents, using compostable bags for produce and expanding reusable bag regulations to book and clothing stores.

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The Berkeley City Council Facilities, Infrastructure, Transportation, Environment and Sustainability Committee met Wednesday to discuss the use of produce bags in grocery stores and promote the use of reusable bags.

Topics addressed during the meeting include bag usage from a store’s produce section, compostable bags and sellers outside of the grocery industry.

In 2014, California legislators passed SB 270, which phased out single-use, carryout plastic bags in stores with specified retail floor space and sales. Even so, stores could still supply thicker bags consisting largely of nonreusable material for 10 cents, according to City Councilmember Kate Harrison. She proposed that the charge be increased to 25 cents.

“Regardless, both end up in our landfills and both end up in our waterways, killing life, fish and other creatures,” Harrison said during the meeting. “We are all drowning in this plastic.”

At grocery stores, the produce and deli sections and salad bars allow customers to use plastic packaging to carry their products, according to Harrison.

The committee assessed the idea of allowing customers to opt out of the plastic packaging that meat is wrapped in.

During the meeting, attendees also addressed the idea of having compostable bags in produce sections. Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center, said compost processing facilities are having difficulty distinguishing between biodegradable and plastic bags.

Bourque was joined by Anya Draves, a Berkeley High School student and co-founder of the Berkeley High School Zero Waste Club, and Alishba Shabir, a youth program assistant at the Ecology Center. Both petitioned last year for Berkeley Bowl to replace plastic bags with compostable ones.

“Composting facilities are being flooded with so many noncompostable bags that they’re not able to distinguish between the two,” Draves said during the meeting. “The more we regulate stores to ban plastic bags, the fewer plastic bags will be in circulation and the easier it will be to actually compost biodegradable bags.”

Harrison echoed the sentiment, proposing a phased system to introduce reusable bag regulations to facilities other than grocery stores.

The goal would be to advance the city’s incorporation of sustainable packaging to other businesses, including book and clothing stores, instead of only focusing on grocery stores, according to Harrison.

“We need to look at some of the better enforcement language we had in a couple of other ordinances to make super clear that our role as a city is educational, not to ding people for not doing this,” Harrison said during the meeting.

Upcoming issues that the committee plans to evaluate include the specifics of branching out to facilities aside from grocery stores, the city attorney’s stance on health and safety measures for handling meat packaging, the issue of compostable bags within Berkeley’s composting facility and what assistance to stores would entail.

Contact Lauren Huang at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @Laurenhuang72.