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Alameda County moves a step closer to mandatory recycling, banning plastic bags

on December 16, 2011

Two ordinances aimed at reducing waste in Alameda County moved a step closer to implementation on Wednesday afternoon.

The Alameda County Waste Management Authority board voted unanimously to introduce an ordinance at a planned meeting January 25 that would ban single-use checkout bags for many retailers in the county. The board also voted Wednesday to introduce a mandatory recycling ordinance which would require businesses and managers or owners of multi-family buildings to recycle at that meeting and put it before a vote. A majority vote was required Wednesday to approve the language in the ordinances before they can be adopted at the January 25 meeting.

Gary Wolff, the executive director of ACWMA, said he has little doubt both ordinances will be eventually adopted by the board. “We have full support from across the broad spectrum of a very diverse county with a lot of different systems for solid waste management,” Wolff said, “and we have full support for the adoption of the ordinances.”

The bag ban is intended to reduce the number of bags going to landfills and help reduce litter. According to, plastic bags comprised 9.6 percent of the litter collected on coastal cleanup days in the county in 2008.

If adopted, the bag ban would begin January 1, 2013 and affect about 1,900 county stores that sell packaged food. Those include drug stores, supermarkets, pharmacies, grocery stores, convenience food stores and liquor stores. Restaurants, take-out food establishments, charitable thrift stores and retail stores that don’t sell packaged food would be exempt from the ordinance. Wolff noted during the meeting that all retail stores may be added to the list during the future.

The ordinance also does not cover single-use bags used to transport food or produce that is sold inside a store—for example, bags used to contain fruits and vegetables in a grocery store will still be allowed. Reusable bags may be made available by retailers for no less than 10 cents per bag.

The mandatory recycling ordinance would replace a voluntary business recycling program. The ordinance would require businesses and owners or managers of multi-family buildings recycle materials like paper, cardboard, and beverage and food containers.

The mandatory recycling ordinance would be rolled out in stages. The first phase would begin July 1, 2012 and would require businesses and multi-family units that generate four cubic yards of solid waste per week to separate recyclable materials from waste. The second phase would begin July 1, 2014 and add food and compostable materials to the list of covered recyclables.

Wolff said the mandatory recycling ordinance is necessary because about $100 million worth of materials in the county that could be recycled end up in landfills each year. But individual cities will have the option to opt out of either ordinance. “We haven’t heard that from anyone yet,” Wolff said, “but it could happen.”

The cost of implantation, and the extra cost to some businesses, could be the greatest hurdles for county cities as they consider whether to opt out of either ordinance, Wolff said. He said about “seven or eight” of the 17 cities in the county that are “sorting out” how they can go about complying with the ordinances.

“Some might choose to opt out at this point in time, but that’s not because they’re against it,” he said. “It’s because of the local economy right now, and particular details for their community.”

The proposed ordinances were generally met with approval by speakers from the audience. Ruth Abby, an Alameda resident, was representing the group Community Action for a Sustainable Alameda, a group that wants to help lower the city’s carbon emissions level. Abby said mandatory rules are required to change the public’s perception, comparing the mandatory recycling ordinance to the national seat belt law, and how it made wearing a seat belt the norm. “When kids get in a car now, they buckle up. It’s routine to them,” she said. “I think it’s important for us to show a new norm of behavior for our students and our families, and I commend you for that.”

Allison Chan, a policy associate at Save the Bay, which advocates for protecting the bay from pollutants, praised the bag ban. “This is a huge milestone for the Bay Area,” she said.


  1. Samantha on December 16, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I would be so happy to see the bag ban happen. At my home in West Oakland I pick up at least three plastic single use bags from around my house EVERY DAY.

  2. Marc on December 16, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Does the bag ban cover all reusable bags (paper and plastic), just non-reusable plastic bags, or are there a more complex set of criteria? Are ordinary plastic bags “reusable” if they cost the consumer 10 cents or more each?

  3. Student on December 18, 2011 at 11:43 pm

    I got to Oakland Tech, and despite the recycling bins, nothing is actually recycled. It would be great if they also made it mandatory for schools to recycle and make it illegal for them to serve food in styrofoam.

  4. Haul it Louisville Guy on December 21, 2011 at 8:29 am

    The bag ban is definitely the way to go.I wish more cities would implement a plan. If the smaller cities have trouble complying with the entire ordinance then why don’t they start with the plastic bag ban and move foward one piece at a time.

  5. […] On Wednesday afternoon, members of the Alameda County Waste Management Authority voted for two ordinances that will require mandatory recycling for businesses and multi-family properties and prohibit stores that sell packaged food from giving out single-use bags.  Both ordinances are supposed to help reduce waste in Alameda County. […]

  6. Basil on June 10, 2012 at 12:06 am

    The one-time use bag charge is the government’s way of capitalizing on the new “GREEN”. I reuse my one-time use plastic bags or paper bags I get from the grocery store. I use it for storing trash like dirty diapers or used tampons and pads. I use it to store dirty clothes that my kids soiled. I use it to transport dirty things like small amounts of soil or potted plants. I use it to donate canned goods or package donated clothes. They should be taking the money collected and redistributing it to those who reuse the bags. They could have also set up a recycling program like can and bottles whereby people would pay for the bag but get it back when they recycle the bag. This is just “dirty” politics.

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