Beginning January 2013, single-use plastic carryout bags won’t be allowed at most stores selling packaged food in Alameda County, and customers will have to pay for their paper bags at the checkout counter. The Reusable Bag Ordinance, adopted by Alameda County Waste Management Authority in January of 2012, is an effort to reduce waste in the county and targets stores that traditionally distribute a high volume of single-use plastic bags.
Affected establishments include supermarkets, liquor stores, pharmacies and other convenience stores such as mini marts. Under the new ordinance, store owners will be required to charge their customers the minimum fee of 10 cents per paper bag and will also be allowed to retain the profit.
“It’s sort of the way– the direction a lot of the counties are moving in,” said Ken Appel, manager of the Safeway in Rockridge. “I think everybody knows that it’s for the environment, so they are okay with it. Safeway has been doing it in San Francisco, so we already have the program to roll out and provide training for our employees.”
With the new ordinance approaching, store managers will have to begin planning ahead for all of the changes required to start selling recycled paper and reusable bags. They will have to prepare register receipts, assign bar codes to bags, and program cash registers to show the bag sales on receipts. Training employees on the upcoming guidelines is also a concern for store owners now.
At Star Grocery store, just blocks away from Rockridge’s Safeway, employees have already begun making adjustments to comply with the new regulation. Since receiving the ordinance notification, cashier Taylor Graham has been making a point of informing his clientele about the future paper bag fee.
“When they come in and they don’t have a bag of their own, we just tell them that coming up, at the beginning of the year, we are going to start charging them 10 cents per bag – and that’s the minimum charge,” he said.
For stores like Star Grocery, transferring the cost of bags to shoppers might be a way of cutting some expenses. “It’s kind of a good idea, because we spend a lot of money on bags and often times it’s just a big bag for one or two items, said manager Harly Burkhart. “It’s a waste.”
According to the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, about 764 million plastic bags are distributed within the county every year. “They are one of the most common litter items found in creeks, storm drains and waterways,” said Waste Management spokesperson Jeff Becerra. Waste Management officials hope the new regulation will reduce plastic bag litter within the county and reduce the cost of cleanup.
In the streets of Oakland, many people say they are ready to adopt reusable bags as an alternative to the plastic ones. “Everything is going green—I agree it’s a good move in the right direction,” said Oakland’s resident Jabari Bell, as he walked towards Safeway. “If I forget to bring my bag, I don’t mind paying the extra 10 cents.”
Although most people agree with the ban of single-plastic bags, not everyone in Alameda County is willing to disburse 10 cents per paper bag. Berkeley resident Earline Gilbert said she usually buys her groceries at the Safeway store in Rockridge. After learning about the new ordinance, she said, she is considering shopping elsewhere.
“I’m not prepared to pay no 10 cents for bags every time I go to the store,” she said, as she pushed her shopping cart filled with several plastic bags full of groceries. “I’ll go to Costco. They’re in Richmond.”
But if the bag fee is a burden for some people’s budgets, it might also compel Alameda County residents to bring their own bags every time they visit a grocery store.
“It will force me to remember to bring the bags with me,” said Oakland’s resident Jean Cassidy as she picked up groceries at a store in Rockridge. “For a lot of people, I think that is an imposition, but I think what it will do is force you to chance your habits.”
The Reusable Bag Ordinance takes effect January 1st 2013, and will affect most stores that mainly sell packaged food in Alameda County. Restaurants, take-out food establishments and retail stores not selling packaged food, along with farmer’s markets, will not be affected by the regulation. Plastic bags used to protect and transport produce, bulk food or meat within the store—from fruit bin to checkout counter, for example—will not be regulated.