Single-use Carry-out Plastic Bags: Board of Supervisors Saga Continues

April, 2015


Ever been stuck in rush hour traffic and had the sensation you are never going to reach your destination? Start. Stop. Start. Stop. And on and on. That’s the feeling you get if you’ve been watching the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) effort to eliminate generation of single-use carry out plastic bag waste in Humboldt’s unincorporated areas.

Unlike Arcata, Ukiah, Fort Bragg and Mendocino County—all of which have passed local bag bans—the BOS’s passive approach since 2010 has been to wait and see if one of the four state bag ban bills introduced in the past five years —all unanimously supported by the BOS—would be enacted. This approach has allowed Board members to avoid voting for a County measure while still appearing to take an environmentally correct position. Unfortunately, the fiscal consequence for the County (which continues to run a budget deficit) has been the loss of hundreds of thousands of tax dollars spent on associated waste management costs—money that could be spent on higher priority public service needs.

Latest Actions of Board of Supervisors

At the January 6, 2015 BOS meeting, the Board unanimously:

• restated its support of SB 270,

• decided to not develop an interim ban measure that—should the referendum fail—would only be effective for about a year, and

• directed staff to prepare a resolution (passed unanimously at the January 20 meeting) affirming support for SB 270, which encourages businesses covered by SB 270 to voluntarily cease using plastic bags. It also states that if the referendum succeeds the Board intends to pass a local ordinance if local voluntary bag waste reduction efforts are unsuccessful.

At the January 20 meeting, at least two Supervisors (Sundberg and Bohn) gave the impression that if the referendum succeeded and most businesses had stopped using plastic bags, they would revisit their position on passing a local ordinance. ZWH is concerned there was no discussion of what would be the basis for determining the success or failure of local voluntary efforts and at least these two supervisors seemed comfortable with relying on anecdotal information.

Holding the Board Accountable

Zero Waste Humboldt will ensure that if the referendum is approved, the Board will have to make an evidence-based decision on a County ordinance. In the interim, we will be monitoring use of plastic bags by the businesses that would be covered by SB 270—large supermarkets, pharmacies and retail stores, and a statistically valid sampling of convenience stores and eating establishments. Bag use data will be collected and analyzed, and our findings will be reported to the Board just prior to the November 2016 election.

If our analysis shows voluntary reduction of plastic bag use has been inadequate, we will urge the public to let the Board know we expect them to direct staff to complete the work started on a County ordinance and have it ready for presentation to the Board for a first reading no later than May 2016.

ZWH Efforts Have Positive Impact on Selection of Recycling Processor

We are happy to report that many of the recommendations ZWH made to Humboldt Waste Management Authority staff and Board members since early December regarding the choice of their next recycling processor were incorporated into either the preliminary Draft released at the February 12 HWMA Board meeting or Board member revisions. We want to express our thanks to the 60+ citizens who responded to our articles, website information and action alerts with letters to the Board that supported ZWH’s recommendations and Processor Expectations. Your key support let HWMA know that ZWH’s input was popularly endorsed. The Draft remains a work in progress. In the next two months we will work with HWMA member governments with the goal of correcting the Request for Proposal’s remaining flaws. The minimum term of the next recycling contract is 10 years. Getting best management practices locked in is essential if we want to optimize the processor’s role in waste reduction and reuse.

Reducing Plastic Water Bottle Waste

Creating models that demonstrate how public institutions and businesses can reduce plastic water bottle waste by switching to a tap water and refillable container approach is a key component of our regional campaign. We are excited to announce that we are looking into working collaboratively with the City of Eureka, the Humboldt Municipal Water District and possibly a bottle filler manufacturer on a project that would markedly reduce consumption of water in plastic bottles in the City Hall building by installing bottle filler/cooler units like the Elkay models shown at Look for updates in the coming months!

Starts and Stops: The Past Five Years Recapped

2010—START: Board begins discussion of a bag ban that would cover the County’s unincorporated areas, supports first proposed statewide legislation – AB 1998 (Brownley). STOP: Bill defeated Aug 30. START: In response to public requests for a local ordinance, Board directs HWMA to prepare a model ordinance for all local governments.

2011—STOP: HWMA waits a year to see how suits brought against local ordinances are resolved.  

2012—START: HWMA works on ordinance and draft environmental documentation; Board anticipates introduction of state bill in February, supports AB 298 (Brownley); bill fails on last day of legislative session. In October, HWMA model ordinance sent to County.  STOP: No action, Board waits for a third state bill to be introduced in February.

2013—SB 405 (Padilla) introduced end of February. START: Board supports bill in early May, bill defeated end of May.  STOP: No action from Board for the remainder of the year.

2014—ZWH informs the Board on January 1 of County’s estimated annual cost of managing bag waste—$71,800 to $214,600. Board is asked to begin work on a County ban ordinance.  START: On January 14, the BOS directs staff to prepare a proposal; preliminary work presented. STOP: Work halted when the latest state bill proposal, SB 270, was introduced in May. The largest stores covered by SB 270 are required to eliminate plastic bag use by July 2015, the deadline for smaller stores is July 2016. START: The bill was signed into law in September 30,  becoming the nation’s first plastic bag ban law. STOP: The next day, out of state plastic bag manufacturers begin collecting enough signatures to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot that if passed, would repeal the law. The corporations contribute 97.5% of the $3.3 million into the signature gathering campaign.  The Board waits to see the outcome.

2015—Enough signatures gathered to put the referendum on the ballot, delaying implementation of the law until the November 4, 2016 election is held.  If the referendum ballot measure fails, the law becomes effective immediately. This means the biggest stores will have had 18 more months to generate plastic bag waste.

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