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Alameda County approves mandatory recycling, plastic bag ban

on January 26, 2012

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.

“It’s rare that you get a win-win for both the environment and the economy, and this is that,” said Gary Wolff, the executive director for StopWaste.Org.

The first ordinance will require businesses generating four or more cubic yards of solid waste per week, multi-family building owners, and manager of buildings with five or more units to separate recyclables from waste.

The mandatory recycle ordinance is divided into two phases.  Phase one begins July 1, 2012 and includes basic recyclables:  paper, cardboard, and beverage and food containers.  Phase two will start on July 1, 2014.  The second phase will add organics — both food and compostable paper — to the basic recyclables list.

However, local jurisdictions are allowed to opt out of the mandatory recycle ordinance.  If business want to opt out of phase one, they must do it by March 2, 2012, and if business want to opt out of phase two, the deadline to do so is January 1, 2014.

No notices of violation will be issued any earlier than January 1, 2013, unless there are flagrant violations.

The second ordinance, which will ban stores that sell packaged food from giving out single-use plastic carryout bags in Alameda County, will go into effect on January 1, 2013.   Under the new ordinance, recycled paper bags may be used if the retailer charges at least ten cents per bag.  On January 1, 2015, the price is expected to rise to 25 cents, unless the authority board finds that the increase is not necessary to discourage single-use bags.

The bag ban does not include restaurants, take-out food establishments, retail stores not selling packaged food, or charitable thrift stores.

The new ordinances are also expected to create jobs in Alameda County. “Each 100,000 tons [of waste collected] is about 200 sorting job,” Wolff said. “So, phase one will create about 200 jobs.”

At the meeting, the board put the ordinances to a vote after listening to Wolff’s presentation.

On the mandatory recycling ordinance, all of the members voted yes, except for Dave Sadoff of the Castro Valley Sanitary District.  The board unanimously agreed to the single-use bag reduction ordinance.

According to some of the board members, many of them have been trying to do this in their jurisdictions for a while, but it was too expensive. “I have been trying to for five years to get this in Albany,” said Joanne Wile, the president of the board.  “But, it’s just so costly to get an environment impact report for each individual city.”

“This is a very exciting moment,” said Jennifer West, the board representative for Emeryville.  “It’s hard to change habits, and this is a habit-changing ordinance.”

Although the board members supported the two ordinances, some still expressed concern about how much the new mandates will cost businesses.

But, according to Wolff, businesses should not be concerned about increased rates. “In some cases, rates may go up, but that doesn’t mean the total bill goes up,” Wolff said.  “People are fixated on rates and they should pay attention to the total bill.”

Members of the public who attended the meeting expressed strong support for the new ordinances. “It’s great,” said Nick Lapis, the legislative coordinator for Californians Against Waste, a non-profit environmental research and advocacy organization.  “This will help lay out where the state should go.  Adding 15 jurisdictions will have a big effect statewide, in terms of legislation.”

“We’re setting a standard for other counties in California and in the country,” Wile said.


  1. […] to reduce the amount of garbage that ends up downstream. For example, Alameda County in January passed a plastic bag ban, set to go into effect in January 2013, prohibiting stores that sell packaged foods from giving out […]

  2. Brian Schick on January 8, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I want my plastic bags back. Those things are SO useful!

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