By Ashley Mackin
District 1 City Councilmember and Council Pro Tem Sherri Lightner is leading the way toward San Diego’s reduction of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and retail outlets.
If her path is smooth, the ban could go into effect by early 2014. On Sept. 11, the city council’s Rules and Economic Development Committee unanimously voted to move ahead with drafting an ordinance.
“San Diego must take a leadership role in limiting plastic bag use and reducing the pollution associated with it,” Lightner said. “As we can see from other cities, the benefits are real and can be done without burdening our businesses or our most vulnerable residents.” More than 70 California municipalities have a similar ordinance, including Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Cruz and Solana Beach.
Lightner’s Communications Director Jill Esterbrooks explained the timeline. She said on Oct. 23, the city council’s Rules and Economic Development committee will receive a progress report and draft the ordinance.
From there, a council advisory committee will review the ordinance and either make revisions or pass it along to the city council for a vote.
Esterbrooks said Lightner is hopeful the ordinance will be forwarded to the council and receive an approval by the first of the year with implementation soon after, on the condition it is signed into law by whomever is mayor.
However, if the signing mayor is Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, Esterbrooks said she’s confident it will be a go.
“A plastic bag reduction ordinance simply makes sense, and I am grateful to Council President Pro Tem Sherri Lightner for bringing this forward and helping me protect our environment,” Gloria said.
In a press release, he promised to coordinate outreach with the city’s Environmental Services Department, stakeholders and the City Attorney’s office to identify and address any practical and legal issues before the ordinance is developed and presented to the city council for its consideration. He also said he would seek corporate sponsors to promote free reusable bag giveaways in disadvantaged communities.
Among the recommendations being considered is a complete ban on plastic bags in supermarkets, drug and convenience stores.
Another suggestion is to have stores charge customers a small fee (typically 10 cents) per paper bag used as an alternative, which Esterbrooks said keeps a shopper’s options open in cases where they forget to bring (or do not have) a bag. However, restaurants, nonprofits, food stamp recipients and produce and meat products would be exempt.
Lightner discussed the potential ordinance at the September La Jolla Shores Association meeting, citing a report from the city’s Environmental Services Department, which stated 500 million single-use plastic bags are distributed annually in San Diego. About 3 percent of those are recycled, she said, with the bulk ending up in the trash or as pollution.
Lightner pointed out that in addition to the environmental impacts, the city spends $160,000 each year in landfill cleanup costs alone — not including costs for plastic bag litter removal from streets, storm drains, parks and beaches.