Millbrae supermarket clerks may soon replace the familiar phrase “paper or plastic?” with “recycled paper or did you bring your own reusable bag?”
In mid-October, the city council will discuss a proposed ordinance to ban all single-use plastic bags and traditional paper bags at Millbrae’s supermarkets. The stores would only be allowed to distribute paper bags made from 40 percent recycled materials. And, due to legal and accounting reasons, grocery stores would charge customers 10 cents for each recycled paper bag.
“The original plan was to do a blanket program, affecting every business,” said Millbrae Chamber of Commerce President John Ford.
As it stands now, the ordinance mandates a ban at grocery stores, and seeks a voluntary compliance from all retail businesses.
After concerns from the business community, the city scaled the program back from its original intention, Ford said. He thinks it would have been straining on all businesses in Millbrae, especially since they would need to record the number of recycled paper bags distributed.
The city would implement the ban in two phases. The first would go into effect on July 1, 2012, impacting large grocery stores, such as Safeway, Lucky’s and Trader Joe’s. The second phase, on Jan. 1, 2013, would apply to the smaller markets, such as and .
Millbrae would join 10 other California cities in banning plastic bags, such as Palo Alto, 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.
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. On average, Millbrae residents use about 9.5 million plastic bags per year.
“We’re taking a step forward in reducing our carbon footprint,” said Vice Mayor Marge Colapietro.
But, the ordinance may face some resistance, particularly from the plastics industry which has sued most cities that have similar mandates.
Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, comprised of plastic industry executives, filed several lawsuits against cities that did not conduct a costly and time-consuming environmental impact report before imposing a plastic bag ban, including Palo Alto, Oakland and Manhattan Beach. 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.
However, the California Supreme Court ruled in July that cities should not be required to conduct an EIR, clearing the way for Millbrae and others to move forward with their ban.
The ordinance will not affect restaurants or fast-food restaurants, and will not apply to protective bags, such as plastic bags in the produce and bakery section.
Dean’s Produce and Kimberly’s Fine Foods managers were not available for comment.
Millbrae residents and businesses are invited to comment on the proposed ban between now and Oct. 11. They can address comments to David Petrovich, City Planner, 621 Magnolia Ave., Millbrae, CA 94030 or contact Millbrae Environmental Programs Manager Shelly Reider at 650-259-2444.
Tentatively, city council members plan to meet publicly on the matter on Oct. 11.