Starting in September at all retail stores in Millbrae, customers must either bring reusable bags or pay 10 cents for each paper bag requested.
City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to ban plastic bags at all retail locations, and stores must now keep track of their paper bag distribution. The law will impact about 50 retail stores throughout the city.
“On the first day of the ordinance, 75 percent of customers take no bag or bring a reusable bag,” said Tim James, spokesman for the California Grocers Association, referring to similar ordinances in other cities. “Over time, we see that number climb by another 10 percent.”
The city received no public comments during a mandatory 22-day public review period when it introduced the rule in October 2011. However, council members said they received many letters recently from both proponents and opponents.
“We would prefer a voluntary option, especially for smaller businesses,” said Millbrae Chamber of Commerce President John Ford. He said that the ordinance will burden some retail stores with additional costs to procure paper bags and with the nuisance of having to account for every paper bag sold, as the mandate requires.
The city is imposing the 10-cent customer fee because it believes this will incentivize people to bring their own bag and reduce the overall usage of plastic, according to a city staff report.
“It will also reduce litter and the associated cleanup costs,” said Shelly Rider, environmental programs manager for the city. She said last year the city collected 429 plastic bags and 282 paper bags in just three hours during the , a statewide annual volunteer effort that Millbrae participates in.
“I am tired of putting up a ladder and pulling down plastic bags from my trees,” said , a resident of Palm Avenue and a Sierra Club member.
The city uses about seven million plastic bags and about 2.8 million paper bags annually, according to Public Works Director Ron Popp.
“I initiated this proposal years ago, and we put it aside hoping the state would come up with something,” said Vice Mayor Gina Papan. “But they did not, and Millbrae is taking a step forward with this to prevent the millions of bags from ending up in our environment.”
The city will inform residents and the business community through a direct mail campaign in several languages, as well as newsletters and phone calls. The city can make certain exemptions for some businesses, and “if a business has a problem, please come talk to us and we will work with you,” Papan said.
The fine for failing to comply with the law is at first a warning, and a maximum fine of $500 for three infractions in a year.
A limited number of reusable bags are available free to all residents at the Public Works Department counter, Monday through Friday during regular business hours.