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Millbrae Revisits Plastic Bag Ban

Customers would have to pay 10 cents for a paper bag at any retail store.

The city will require Millbrae retailers to charge customers 10 cents for paper bags if a proposed plastic bag ban is approved on Tuesday.

When introduce in October, the plastic ban ordinance included only grocery stores and implemented the ban in two phases – the first in July, impacting only large grocery stores, and the second in January 2013 for smaller markets such as .

However, a recently revised proposal, encompass all retail stores in the city and will go into effect in September.

“We would figure out a way to handle it,” said Jacob Notowitz, co-owner of , a jewelry store. “It seems ridiculous though to charge someone 10 cents for a bag on a $500 bracelet. 

A business owner could use the fee to counterbalance the additional costs of the ordinance. The city hopes the fee would deter customers from using paper bags and encourage them to bring reusable ones.

Millbrae would join over a dozen other California cities in banning plastic bags, such as Palo Alto, Long Beach, San Jose and Berkeley. The city hopes to reduce the amount of litter associated with single-use plastic bags, as plastic bags rank five in the top 10 most littered items, according to the Ocean Conservancy. 

The city uses about seven million plastic bags and about 2.8 million paper bags annually, according to Public Works Director Ron Popp. Bay Area residents discard 3.8 of the 19 billion plastic bags used every year in California, according to Save The Bay, a regional environmental organization. 

“We agree with the concept of reducing single-use bags from an environmental perspective,” said Millbrae Chamber of Commerce President John Ford. “But we don’t necessarily think that charging people for paper bags is the best thing to do right now.”

Ford said that it would be difficult for small retailers to implement the fee on their customers, and he recommends that Millbrae wait for neighboring cities to pass similar bans. He thinks Burlingame and San Bruno businesses, especially grocery stores, would have a competitive advantage over their Millbrae counterparts.

Millbrae chose to move forward with the ordinance after a California Supreme Court in July 2011 ruled that small cities should not be required to conduct an Environmental Impact Report.

This decision nullified lawsuits filed by Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, an organization comprised of plastic industry executives that claimed small cities must conduct a costly and time-consuming EIR before imposing a plastic bag ban. It argued that paper bags are actually better for the environment than paper. For example, when paper bags release CO2 and methane when they degrade, but plastic bags don’t, it says.

Other opponents have also vowed to sue California cities on the basis that the 10-cent fee violates Proposition 26, which requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in the California Legislature to levy certain taxes and fee. However, this may not have legal standing because the city does not collect the fee, but rather the business keeps it.

The Millbrae legislation would exempt all restaurants, dry-cleaners and nonprofits. It would also exclude bakery item bags, meat and produce bags and other bags of similar use.

Millbrae residents and businesses are invited to comment on the proposed ban at the City Council Chambers located at 621 Magnolia Ave. on Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.

Correction: The Supreme Court ruling said that only small cities, including Millbrae, are exempt from conducting an EIR, not all cities.

Nancy January 23, 2012 at 09:17 PM
Why don't they just leave things alone. Extra money is something none of us have. Maybe we will just shop in other towns.
Bill Baker January 23, 2012 at 10:09 PM
This is ridiculous. The Millbrae City Council is literally nickel-and-diming (in this case with a 10 cent bag fee) people in an attempt to push their lefty social engineering agenda. At 10 cents a bag, I wonder how long it is going to take them to recover the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, court costs and other payments they will have to pay when they get sued by the opponents of this ridiculous law. Let's see, for every $100,000 the City of Millbrae spends on legal fees and court costs, assuming the City gets the full 10 cent fee from each (non exempted) bag, 1,000,000 (non exempted) bags have to be sold to recover the legal costs. I wonder how long it will take for 1 million (non exempted) bags to change hands within the borders of Millbrae? Potential customers might also decide not to shop in Millbrae because they object to being charged 10 cents for a bag to put their purchases into. This will reduce tax revenue for Millbrae. Also, how do you monitor and enforce the law? Does Millbrae need to hire bag counters? Not to be confused with Millbrae's residents and businesses who have become bagholders as a result of this type of nonsense by their City Council.
Pretty Asian... January 23, 2012 at 10:12 PM
shopping in other towns is costly while 10 cents is no big deal at all. besides, NOTHING is free in this world, innit?
Nancy January 23, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Well I shop for a family of 7, 5 children and 10 cents is a BIG deal!!!
Pretty Asian... January 23, 2012 at 11:22 PM
i mean well Nancy. i was referring to myself regarding the 10 cents being no big deal (for me) probably cuz i am single and i don't use my car in most cases... except on emergency and urgent matters.... thus saving me so much from gasoline.
Heidi Beck January 24, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Would stores HAVE to charge for the paper bags? For instance, I would imagine the jewelry story mentioned above would just give customers a bag for their jewelry purchase -- probably a nice little tote bag with the company name on it as an advertisement. Under the ordinance, would stores be allowed to give out paper bags for free? (Not that they'd actually be free -- the cost would be passed on, just as the cost for paper and plastic bags is passed on at present.)
Heidi Beck January 24, 2012 at 03:50 AM
This ordinance sounds like the one in San Jose, which makes for some unusual shopping: For instance, Valley Fair Mall is partly in San Jose, partly in Santa Clara. The stores in the Santa Clara part of the mall can do what they want, whereas the San Jose stores are subject to the bag ordinance. I was there recently, and I was glad to have a bag from a store on the Santa Clara side, because when I made a purchase from a store on the San Jose side, not only did the merchant not have any plastic bags, but they couldn't even sell me a bag for 10 cents because they had run out of paper bags! I'm used to bringing my own bags to the grocery store and the drugstore, but bringing my own bag to the mall is going to take some getting used to!
Jesse M. January 24, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Correction, city staff has recommended a negative declaration, meaning the ban would have no effect on the environment and therefore the developer need not prepare and file an environmental impact report. I'm a bit confused what this implies for the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance. Anybody wanna clarify for me? http://www.ci.millbrae.ca.us/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=3326
David Carini January 24, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Heidi, from what I understand, yes the jewelry store would have to charge customers 10 cents for the bags it usually gives away for free.
Heidi Beck January 24, 2012 at 08:00 AM
Wow, that's just nuts. Like the jeweler said, it's ridiculous to charge someone a dime on a bag when they're spent $500 on a bracelet. I guess the solution is to keep a dish of dimes near the register so that customers can "pay" for the bags. Or what if the store comes up with some other kind of bag or box to tote items? For instance, there's a clothing boutique in San Mateo that puts your purchases in fabric bags sewn from scraps. If that store was in Millbrae, would that boutique owner have to change 10 cents to hand out her fabric bags? I generally bring my own bags and like it when merchants give me a rebate for bringing my own bags.
Antonio Catpo January 24, 2012 at 04:48 PM
They would leave things alone if people would bring their own bags. Reducing the use of plastic bags protects our environment, our children, our future.
Antonio Catpo January 24, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Bring reusable bags and it won't cost you a penny
Antonio Catpo January 24, 2012 at 04:52 PM
Let's forget about the jewelry store (6 bags per day, maybe) and concentrate on big stores, for instance, I've seen Safeway shoppers who grab endless numbers of plastic bags, why? because they are free. (ask any cashier about this)
Heidi Beck January 24, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Well, that's human nature -- why go to Smart & Final and buy a box of bags if you can grab a handful at the store for free? But they aren't really free -- the merchant buys them and everybody pays for them as part of the markup.
Heidi Beck January 24, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I just looked at the proposed ordinance, and merchants can give away reusable bags as part of a time-limited promotional event. I think it would be a good idea to include some wording that would expand that -- perhaps along the lines that would allow "free bag with any purchase over $XXX" ($100? $150?) that would not be time-limited.
Bill Baker January 24, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Jesse, what are you correcting?
Antonio Catpo January 25, 2012 at 08:08 AM
I agree with you, Heidi, it's human nature to prefer getting things for free (I saw a guy grabbing a free pedometer at "Discovery Museum" and then asking "What is this for?") Therefore, charging any amount of money will reduce the WASTE and POLLUTION created by this indiscriminate use of bags.
Jesse M. January 25, 2012 at 08:40 AM
I was correcting myself (and deleted the post I was correcting).I had previously posted that the city council is planning to vote no, but upon reading the document in the link I posted, found it was only a negative declaration, which I am still somewhat confused about.

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