New plastic bag ban receives mixed reactions from customers, storeowners in Oakland

Nicks Liquor store owner Abdullah Albasir shows off the reusable bag he's required to sell to customers for 10 cents. The plastic bag ban went into affect in Alameda County on New Years day.

Nicks Liquor store owner Abdullah Albasir shows off the reusable bag he's required to sell to customers for 10 cents. The plastic bag ban went into affect in Alameda County on New Years day.

Behind the counter at Nick’s Liquor store in West Oakland, owner Abdullah Albasir tries to calm customers annoyed that they have to pay 10 cents for a bag now that Alameda County’s new regulations on plastic bags have gone into effect.

“I don’t got 10 cents,” one customer says loudly, sliding a gallon jug of water and packages of Marie Callender’s TV dinners across the counter.

“You charge 10 cents, too?” asks another customer overhearing this conversation. “Damn!”

Albasir explains that he’s just following the law, but like other West Oakland liquor storeowners and cashiers, he’s still facing the ire of customers who want their shopping bags for free.

On January 1, Alameda County’s Reusable Bag Ordinance went into effect, banning businesses within the county from distributing single-use bags to customers and requiring store owners to offer reusable or recycled paper bags for a 10 cent fee. The regulatory agencies involved in StopWaste.org passed the ordinance last January as a means of reducing the amount of pollution produced by plastic bags. Businesses affected by the new law include liquor stores, pharmacies, grocery stores and other establishments that sell packaged foods, alcohol or both; restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops are the only exceptions.

As part of the new ordinance, store owners are required to keep monthly records of the number of paper and reusable bags purchased and sold to customers. Customers can bring their own bags, free of charge, or pay for the bags offered by the stores. Store owners bucking the new ordinance will be fined $100 to $500 per violation, a penalty handed out by regulatory agents who will intermittently visit the establishments to make sure their records are in order. (Read Oakland North’s previous coverage of Alameda County’s plastic bag ban)

How have liquor store customers reacted to the new law? Not well, say some Oakland cashiers and storeowners. At Nasan Market, just several blocks away from Nick’s, a cashier said some shoppers have become so upset about the new charge that he’s lost business. “Everybody says, ‘I don’t want to pay 10 cents, I don’t want to pay 10 cents,’” said the cashier, who goes by Sam with customers and declined to give his full name. He estimates that he lost $25 to $30 the day after New Year’s due to the fee.  One customer, he said, put all of his stuff back on the shelves and stormed out of the store after being told he would be charged for a bag. “I lost a customer,” he said, throwing up his arms.

Prior to the ordinance’s passage, black plastic bags were given indiscriminately to liquor store customers, said Albasir at Nick’s Liquor, regardless of how many things they were purchasing. “If they buy or a soda or a cupcake, they say, ‘Give me a bag,” said Albasir, who supports the new ordinance.  “People, they pay 25 cents, a dollar and they want a bag. Now I can say, ‘It is 10 cents.’”

Albasir said he agrees with the environmental motives behind the new ordinance. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes: People ask for a bag and then as soon as they leave the store they throw it in the street,” he said.

Many of those discarded plastic bags, Albasir said, end up in the ocean, where there is a mass of plastic big enough to be seen from outer space. “It’s not about saving a bag,” he says to the irate customers in line. “It’s about saving the environment.”

Isaac Lott, a West Oakland resident who’s been frequenting Nasan for 28 years, said he doesn’t mind paying 10 cents for a bag. “Plastic bags fuck up the environment,” he said as he stopped to buy some Twizzlers. “If you got to pay for it, then you should know it ain’t good.”

But not every storeowner agrees with this assessment. At N&A market, located two blocks from Nasan, signs around the store clarify that the new policy isn’t the management’s doing: “There will be a surcharge of 10 cents per bag. This is a city ordinance not the store.” N&A owner Mohamed Moasee said he’s against the new ordinance. “Especially for people living in the ghetto, 10 cents is a lot of money, considering how many bags people use a day,” he said.

Anna Stock Matthews, the public relations person for StopWaste.org, said that for the most part business owners have been pretty cooperative. “StopWaste.org has been working for the last year to help all of the businesses comply with the new ordinance,” she said.

But on the day after New Year’s, the new rules weren’t being followed everywhere. Along Adeline Street, black plastic bags were still being dispensed to customers at some liquor stores, sometimes for a 10 cent fee and at other times for free. Intimidated by some customers, one cashier passed out bags to some shoppers who hadn’t purchased anything. “Some people get mad,” he said. He said that it was the last day that he would use the old black bags, and showed off the translucent reusable-labeled bags behind the counter that the store will begin selling this week.

Jeff Becerra, the communications manager at StopWaste.org, hopes the ordinance will curb the use of a product that is detrimental to the environment. “We know that things that are new like this sometimes take time to adapt to,” Becerra said. “But bringing a reusable bag to a store will become a habit for a lot of people.”

Albasir agreed that it takes time for legislation to affect people’s habits. “Imagine you live next to here,” he said. “Some people come in and they get a cupcake and soda. They walk home then they come back.” If you keep charging them for bags, he said, “next time they come in, they say, ‘I have my own bag.’ I’ve seen it already today.”

As he spoke, a woman entered the store with two young girls beside her. “I’m not going to pay 10 cents for a bag,” she said as she waited for him to ring her up at the counter. “That’s some foolishness.” Instead, she grabbed the barbecue chips, jumbo-sized Rice Krispies treat, sour apple rings and other candy she had purchased and placed them in the arms of each of the girls to carry.

Albasir laughed as she angrily exited the store. “See, she got mad,” he said. “But did you see her with a bag?”

39 Comments

  1. Steve Presortti

    I work in Pleasanton but live in Tracy. I shop frequently in Pleasanton out of conveniece before I head home. I will no longer do so. I didn’t realize this new law and was at Safeway yesterday. I left a grocery cart full of items at the checkstand in protest of this stupid law. I’ll just do all my shopping in Tracy going forward. Probably best anyway, so my own community benefits. Enjoy your little fascist county.

  2. F.W. Lee

    The law is being enforced in S. Cal with stores like Target no longer providing plastic bags. I bring my own bags to most grocery and retail stores since I do not like keeping large amounts of plastic bags at home. Too often, their are people who litter communities with plastic bags without a care in the world. I do believe that we need to change habits and if it means charging a fee or fine to be healthy, so be it. Sometimes if the people will not change a behavior voluntarily, then involuntarily enforcement must occur.

  3. Ned

    It is unfortunate that the plastic bag issue has come to this, but I agree with the $.10 fee. If your Momma isn’t going to follow you around and clean up after you for the rest of your life, then why should anyone else? Every week I pick up plastic bags out of my front yard. If I pick up 10 plastic bags from my postage stamp sized yard every week, how many plastic bags are floating around in the ocean? If people would be more responsible with trash then we could all have nice things.

  4. John

    I am an Oakland resident and a big fan of this law. Plastic bags are a huge litter problem, and I’ve worked at a landfill before. Ever notice the “flags” of bags waving in the air on a barbed-wire fence near the road? Well, the bags also fly out of bins when they are dumped, trucks, and store parking lots, even when people put them in the trash cans.

    Steve, have some patience and you’ll get used to this change. After all, you didn’t have plastic bags at all before the 1990’s. Bring your own reusable bags or keep the 10 cent charge as a reminder that you need this.

    Many countries already have a tradition of reusable bags and it’s high time we changed as well. It may be uncomfortable, but what is really a small difference in convenience will make a huge impact on our surroundings, both close and far.

  5. TKO

    In Alameda, we do this instead of things like fixing crime, helping out poor folks, and repairing our streets.

    • Gina

      That is the best response to this new reusable bag situation I have ever heard, kudos!

      • Plastic recycling is anytime better for our environment.Government should encourage the concept of “plastic recycling”..It will surely provide good help for the environment.

        • I hate all of you California activists. You are all as dumb as a box of rocks, and that’s why the government starts with you. All Uncle Sam has to do is throw a stamp on something, anything, and say it’s helping our environment, and you people jump right in line to be herded like sheep. What about the paper receipts, or coupons, or hell, newspaper since you all are so into e-books and news now. But Uncle Sam didn’t put that on your agenda plate. Why don’t you schmucks stick to what you know… tight bicycle pants, and biking in the middle of the road.

          • Jen

            Give me a break. I live in Mi, it’s 10 c per can of soda, and I agree. We are killing our planet. Plastic bags actually contain petrolium and poison the food that is in them. GOOGLE IT. I would gladly pay it, and if I didn’t want to, I would carry my own bag.

          • Jen

            Oh and ps… I am not a California activist nor are the 100,000 residents that voted to keep the 10 cents per can in MI either.

    • JH

      Oh please. Government works on all different magnitudes of policy problems all the time, it’s not like passing a bag tax came at the expense of considering other issues like “fixing crime.” If you don’t like the bag tax debate the merits.

  6. chloe

    This is a great opportunity for people to be educated, but the way it’s being carried out is not so responsible. Maybe the cities doing this could provide marketing to help people understand the benefits, and that even for poor people, this does not have to be a major cost.

    Rather than pay 10 cents a bag, folks could just buy re-usable cloth bags at almost any grocery. It’s a dollar up front, it would amount to cost-savings in the long run, and if it helps reduce environmental damage, it’s a dollar well spent.

  7. Susan Martin

    I think this is an awesome idea. I have stopped using both paper and plastic long ago and I feel better for having done it. I take my own bags in when I go shopping. Safeway makes this amazing large, hard bottom collapsable grocery carrier that I use so often and have turned so many people on to it. Even the checkers ask me where I got it…The time for “paper or plastic” to GO…we need to be more thoughtful about what we throw into our waste sites…these plastic bags last forever and are floating in every ocean on earth…

  8. Bagman

    Plastic bag bans make middle-class liberals feel good about themselves as they carry all their reusables in their LexSuvs. Poor people, people on foot or transit who are already have a “low carbon footprint” pay the price, as it’s not always convenient to carry bags everywhere. I used to use paper bags for trash when I was done, so I never bought Glad bags — now I will have to. I agree that plastic bags are a menace, and we should do something to minimize or discourage their use, but these kinds of laws are not really the way to go.

    • Still Using Plastic Bags

      Bagman and Steve P. have good points. In the Oakland Tribune, an article talked about an incident where a senior on public transit had her flimsy paper bag break and had to put her groceries in her walker. My mom bought some of those flimsy “resusable” bags and already has a big hole in one. Also, meat that she bought leaked blood into her bags. So I will be buying plastic bags from Staples or online. A much better idea than this ordinance would have been to charge for plastic bags (although LESS than 10 cents since they appear to cost less than 1 cent apiece) and use part of the money to maintain a recycle bin for the bags. Another thing many people haven’t thought about is that the people who make and ship these bags are now out of jobs. I hope for our economy’s sake that these jobs are not in the U.S. People should really think about the all of the consequences of any method of “going green” because sometimes the extreme method is not the best.

      • Still Using Plastic Bags

        You know, it’s interesting that I have seen more bottles, cans and paper wrappers on my street (a VERY busy street in Oakland) than plastic bags. I actually hardly EVER see plastic bags in the street , probably ecause a lot of people such as myself are reusing them. So I think that while this problem was larger iin the past it is now a bit exaggerated.

        • JH

          Ask people who do Lake Merritt clean up. Bags are constantly being found in the lake. The difference between bottles and bags is that bags get swept up in the wind. From my understanding they are harder to clean up because they end up in water or caught in trees as opposed to on the ground.

          No doubt it will take a little time for people to adjust to the policy. The meat example is a good one. Plastic bags still exist to bundle your food in (eg you need something to put the tomatoes in) and she can and should put her meat in those bags before putting it in her reusable bag.

          I’ll bet after one year you won’t even notice this difference.

    • JH

      You’re one of the rare ones Bagman. Most people do NOT reuse their plastic bags as bin liners (they buy trash bags, which they carry home in a plastic bag they then trash…), and the recycling rate for plastic bags is under 20%.

      The overconsumption of single-use plastic bags — hundreds per person per year — is completely unnecessary and has real environmental harm. About 1-2% of all waste in landfills is JUST paper and plastic bags. That’s crazy. If you eliminated plastic bag consumption by 90% petrol-wise it would be equivalent to getting all the cars in California off the road for a few days. Nothing to sneeze at.

      The only reason why this harmful overconsumption happens is because the bags are “free.” Really, though, they’re not free because of the societal costs (including tax dollars) to clean them up and landfill them — we as citizens just don’t see those costs as directly. In economics this is called a negative externality. A bag tax is a pretty simple and minimally invasive way of setting the scales right.

      Lastly, the argument that the tax is regressive and will hurt poor people is bunk. Poor people are most likely to switch to reusable bags to avoid the tax. Bag taxes typically result in a 90+% decrease in consumption. Studies where bag taxes have been implemented find that the average consumer spends less than $10-20 a year on bags taxes precisely because the policy works: to save money people switch to reusable bags.

      • Ben

        Great and informative comment. You pay the 10 cents for a little while until you adjust, then you get a sturdy shopping bag or basket, like grandma used to use in the old days before plastic bags.

        Not every new thing was an advancement. There are lots of cul-de-sacs in history. Plastic shopping bags were one of them. This is my favorite new law in 2013.

    • Bagism

      I’m 63 and have to carry my groceries up a flight of stairs. I try to get them all in at one time. I couldn’t do this with flimsy cheap paper bags with no handles. I always ask for plastic because of the handles and durability. I then use them for trash bags. Aren’t we ALL still using plastic garbage bags? Banning plastic bags isn’t going to keep the litter pigs from littering.

  9. adrianna

    I went to this Latin market on Fruitvale in Oakland (Mi Tierra to be specific) on Jan 01, I forgot about the new law, I was surprised that these people were SELLING plastic bags instead of the Brown paper bags. Is this legal?? Just wondering because I thought the mere purpose of this new law was to get rid of the plastic bags.

    Thanks for reading my comment.

    • Ben

      It’s not legal. However, some places are still giving/selling them and enforcement won’t start for a little while to give people time to adjust.

  10. Greg

    I would be more supportive of ordinance if the 10-cent fee was going towards environmental clean-up or environmental education. Instead it goes in the pockets (of lets be honest) mainly big business.

  11. http://repealbagfee.blogspot.com/

    I started this blog to call for civic activism. The Federal Stimulus money so far has been a feast for the non-profits. It is time to call our locan and state government for cut back in funding.

    Yes, there is a big pile of waste in the ocean — from the Tsunami that hit Japan. Not plastic bags that float on the surface. Show me some pictures and scientific facts.

    And plastic bags found on tummies of the fishers? Show me some numbers, please. How many fishes?

    40+% of plastic bags have been reused as trash bags. I am one of them. And I recently bought 1000 from Amazon for $19.99. Is this thin trash bags not better than the much thicker trash bags that you have to buy?

    And many plastic bags have been brought back to stores to be recycled. We need more stores w/ plastic bags recycled bins. Walgreen now removed the recycled bins. But, aren’t all paper towel, toilet paper wrapped in plastic?

    And we used paper bag for recyclables. Now we have to pay 10c per bag so that we can recycle? My girlfriend from Vallejo has to bring some bags on ferry to SF so that her sister can recycle.

    Please, folks. This is not what it seem. This simple sound bites are from the simple-mindedness.

    Forcing the law down the residents is the most undemocratic. It totally violate our most fundamental democracy principle. If the law makers want us to be abide by it, put in on the ballot and let us vote!

    • Ben

      Holy cow you have a lot of time on your hands. Don Q, is that you?

      Just to respond to one of your points, bag recycling is not energy efficient. The plastic is low quality, requires water to clean off food or other residue, and fuel to drive around collecting and transporting the used bags. It’s much more efficient to dump them in the landfill, something we have a lot of.

      Reusable, sturdy bags are a win for everyone. It takes a small amount of effort to switch, and the 10 cents for now reminds me to stop forgetting to bring my new bags.

  12. Jimbo Jones

    Is there any organization heading up a recall petition to this ordinance? If so, link please?
    I used plastic bags for more than carrying groceries. As a non-car owner(guess who’s more eco-friendly now, Prius drivers?), plastic bags were much more suited to riding in the rain. They were also useful as waste basket liners, cat littler containers (waste management doesn’t appreciate loose cat litter), containing wet shoes/clothes, covering my bike seat, and they could be recycled at many major grocery stores if they piled up. Effectively, I was using something responsibly and now I have to pay money for it (I still have to line my wastebaskets, and empty cat litter into something). At least a few other people out there feel me. Aside from all that, the ordinance is legislating morality. Gimme that link to that recall petition!

  13. http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/opinion/trendy-drive-ban-plastic-grocery-bags-does-it-really-help-environment

    This article totally refuted that plastic bags are the cause. The ban is a false “solution” to the problem.

  14. Margaret

    I’m just wondering where the money goes that they collect?

  15. Mike

    Personally, I hate this new restriction. I kind of understand (I guess) doing this for grocery stores, that is semi easy to remember, and re-train for. However, when I drop into OSH to pick up a staple-gun, some staples, maybe a box of nails and some light bulbs, I am not generally prepared with reusable bags. Did I mention that I am walking to this OSH, saving gas/environment? For many, many, many years, paper bags were provided by the retailer as a convenience, but now the state says they must charge an additional 10 cents per bag, or face a $500 fine. So where does that money go? And why does the state feel the need to legislate that transaction? If that is a bag deposit, can I then return the bag later and get my 10 cents back? From what I read, it seems like the bag solution is in search of a real problem, I know I throw away very few bags, and reuse them for everything. Between this story:

    http://www.uanews.org/story/reusable-grocery-bags-contaminated-e-coli-other-bacteria

    and this story:

    http://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/opinion/trendy-drive-ban-plastic-grocery-bags-does-it-really-help-environment

    What are we really accomplishing? Does anyone really think a reusable cloth bag is going to last through 173 uses? I would say thats unlikely for the bags I have seen.

  16. Just set up an online petition to SF Mayor and Supervisors to lessen this draconian bag ban & fee. You will find the link in http://repealbagfee.blogspot.com/

    The same idea applied to other city.

    Any body who work, live, shop in SF can sign, since it is — a petition.

  17. Check out my new blog: http://fighttheplasticbagban.com/

    On my blog I have a “downloads” menu item. If you click on that there are a number of papers that I have written that can be downloaded.

    One paper titled “Negative Health and Environmental Impacts of Reusable Shopping Bags” deals with the health issues more extensively than you did in the article above. For example, in addition to bacteria, viruses and virus transmission with reusable shopping bags could make other sick. Also, people who have AIDS or a suppressed immune system may be more sensitive to bacteria in reusable bags then people who have normal immune systems. About 20% of the population fit in this category.

    Also, when bag bans are implemented people always complain about all those plastic bags that end up in the landfill. But they have never stopped to calculate all the stuff going into a landfill after a plastic carryout bag ban compared to before. It would surprise you to know that 3 to 4 times the amount of material goes into the landfill post ban than pre ban. Those plastic carryout bags are sure looking good. see my article titled “Fact Sheet – Landfill Impacts” for the details and the calculations.

    There are many more papers that can be downloaded from my blog site.

    There is much more.

  18. You really make it appear really easy along with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be actually one thing that I believe I’d by no means understand. It seems too complicated and very huge for me. I’m having a look forward for your subsequent put up, I will try to get the hold of it!

  19. I am against the plastic bag ban. NOT, receiving a bag for the items you purchase from a store is insane. When you eat at a restaurant you don’t bring your own plate or silverware or glasses!!!!

  20. Great news about banning this kind of plastic bags.i’m strongly oppose to using of plastic bags.instead we can use eco friendly bags with reusable in nature.

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