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.