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Sonoma County plastic bag ban in effect Monday

  • After running out of plastic bags over a week ago, Taylor Rappa bags groceries using paper bags at Petaluma Market on Friday.

“Paper or plastic?” In Sonoma Country, that question is now as passé as “Smoking or non-smoking?” “Unleaded or regular?” and “Beta or VHS?”

A countywide ban on plastic bags goes into enforcement Monday as Sonoma County joins a growing list of jurisdictions in California that have outlawed the disposable sacks because of environmental concerns. The state legislature last week passed a bill that, if signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, would make California the first state to ban plastic bags. The statewide ban would go into effect July 1, 2016.

Grocers and retailers in Sonoma County also now must start charging 10 cents for each paper bag, a fee that officials hope will encourage the use of more ecofriendly, reusable bags.

“It’s a serious litter issue,” said Henry Mikus, executive director of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, which passed the bag ban in February. “You don’t have to go too far to see the effects of plastic bags. They’re all over our creeks, in our watersheds. It’s an environmental issue.”

Stores were given a nearly six-month grace period to comply with the ordinance and educate customers on the changes. Some, like Oliver’s Market, phased out plastic bags months ago.

“We put (the ban) into effect immediately,” said Tom Scott, general manager of Oliver’s, which has two stores in Santa Rosa and one in Cotati. “We didn’t wait for enforcement. Our customers are dialed in with it now.”

Others, such as G&G Supermarkets in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, used up their supply of plastic bags recently.

“We took the logical approach that was a win-win for our customers and the environment,” said G&G CEO Teejay Lowe, “We used all of our inventory of bags as not to needlessly waste the resource.”

G&G put up signs reminding customers about the new regulation and gave out 10,000 reusable bags to help get them ready, Lowe said.

Sonoma County’s plastic bag ban comes after 123 jurisdictions in the state, including Marin and Mendocino counties, have adopted similar ordinances. The ban applies to all Sonoma County cities and the unincorporated areas of county since the Waste Management Agency is comprised of elected officials from cities and the county.

Santa Rosa adopted an ordinance identical to the county one that will also take effect Monday. The city is responsible for enforcing its own ordinance.

Mikus said retailers could be fined $100 for giving out prohibited plastic bags.

“We don’t expect we’ll need to do too much enforcement,” he said. “It tends to be self-policing. Citizens want this. If a store decides it doesn’t want to play, customers are not going to be really happy.”

The ban does not apply to restaurants, and it does not prohibit the thin plastic bags used for produce or bulk food items. Retailers will keep the charge for the paper bags.

The Waste Management Agency launched an outreach campaign and passed out thousands of reusable bags. At Petaluma Market, customers are ready for the transition, according to Jim Agius, president of operations.

“We’re one of the last counties to go forward with this, so it doesn’t come as a big surprise,” he said. “People are well informed. Plenty of people already bring in their own bags. We’re not really getting any push-back on this.”

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com.


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