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Plastic supermarket bags to disappear, come January—and paper bags will cost you

on November 12, 2012

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.


  1. Patrick M Mitchell on November 12, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    To the woman who is planning on traveling to the Richmond Costco: ***NEWSFLASH*** Costco doesn’t have bags in their checkout lines. Never have, never will. And unless she’s planning on walking the absolute minimum distance possible between Berkeley and Richmond (which would still burn calories that would need to be replaced), it would be impossible to travel that distance without incurring a greater cost than simply purchasing bags – or simply remembering to bring them! Seriously, when we leave the house, we currently ask ourselves: “Do I have my wallet/purse? Do I have my keys? Do I have my sunglasses?” I promise you all, adding the simple question “Do I have bags?” will be come second nature in not time. Because it’s easy!

    • Therese on November 12, 2012 at 11:13 pm

      I often stop at the grocery store on my way home from work, and as I don’t have a car, I don’t constantly carry 3 or 4 reusable bags with me. I also tend to shop at places that carry paper bags, which I then use to put my recyclables in… I guess I’ll have to buy plastic bags now to get rid of my bottles/cans and paper.

      Paper bags also leave a lot to be desired in terms of durability… try carrying a few bottles of soda in one with handles, discover they break, or that it’s really uncomfortable to carry from the bottom.

      • Jim on November 13, 2012 at 3:16 pm

        Then leave a few bags at your office, and take them with you when you decide to go to the store. And use a cardboard box for recyclables, which you can use over and over.

      • don on November 16, 2012 at 5:14 pm

        Reusable bags are far more durable than paper or plastic (and Target plastic bags are what made my whole backyard reek of spaghetti sauce when the bag broke from the bottom – just saying.)
        I have a reusable nylon shopping bag that stuffs into itself; it takes up less space than a pack of cigarettes and you could easily have a few of them in your purse or laptop bag for after-work shopping.
        My paper/glass/plastic recycling goes from an easly carried unlined bin in the house to the recycle bin in the yard; once I didn’t reliably have paper bags to line the indoors bin, I realized there’s no reason to bag this stuff first. Our primary use for the paper grocery bags we do end up with is the twice-weekly trash pickup we conduct on our block – a lot of which is, you guessed it, plastic bags from the corner store. I’m very glad to see them go.

    • Chris on November 12, 2012 at 11:45 pm

      I just leave my grocery bags in the trunk of my car. I rarely forget my car when I go grocery shopping. 🙂

  2. […] Stock Matthews, the public relations person for, said that for the most part business owners have been pretty cooperative. “ has been working for the last year to help all of the businesses comply with the […]

  3. Anne on January 7, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Would have been more meaningful if there was a consumer educational component before stopping plastic bags in stores. In addition, would have been easy enough to giveaway cloth recyclable bags. Some of ghe supposed recyclable bags are made of plastic or nylon which will eventually be trashed when dirty or old. People that aren’t happy with this ordinance and haven’t been sold on the need for it will find a way around it.Too bad this wasn’t more carefully planned out.

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