Posted: 01/10/2012 06:02:00 AM PST
THE SUCCESS of Marin County's ban on single-use plastic grocery bags will depend on how well it works with retailers to make the transition a smooth one.
The county's law covers retailers in unincorporated portions of Marin, such as Strawberry, Tam Valley, Marin City, Marinwood, Kentfield and West Marin.
The move away from plastic bags and toward reusable cloth and paper bags makes sense in an effort to reduce litter and oil consumption. Marin's ordinance was approved by the county Board of Supervisors after local retailers indicated their support for the move.
The hope was that the local ordinance would not be necessary; that it would be superceded by a statewide bag law. State law requires retailers to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags instead of single-use bags, including making re-usable bags available to their customers. But despite grocery retailers' backing of a ban on single-use plastic bags, a bill has not gotten out of the Legislature.
Marin delayed its law's implementation for a year, waiting for a statewide law. Time ran out and Marin's law went into effect on Jan. 1. It largely appears to have been taken in stride by retailers and their customers.
That's the way it should be. Awareness and compliance are better than government-imposed fines.
The county law was pushed by advocates who had no patience for the state's efforts to use public education rather than a
But even with the county ban, the public education focus of the state's approach is key to making the local law work smoothly, giving both retailers and their customers adequate time to make the change.
The lower cost and convenience of plastic bags have made them ubiquitous, including in the litter that gathers along our roads, in our creeks and on our beaches.
In 2009, during California's participation in International Coastal Cleanup, plastic bags were the second most collected marine debris.
Improved availability of inexpensive reusable bags has made a big difference. There are viable, practical, affordable alternatives to the single-use wispy plastic grocery bag. Without real alternatives, the move away from plastic would be far more difficult.
The county's nominal store charge — up to a nickel — for paper bags should encourage shoppers to reuse them, or better yet, bring in their own reusable bags.
Marin shoppers' growing use of their own bags helped turn local retailers into supporters of the ban.
United Markets, which has stores in San Rafael and San Anselmo, would not have been impacted by the ban, but went ahead and made the change on its own before the ban even went into effect. We urge other grocery stores to follow United's example.
It also is impressive that a big chain such as Safeway made the switch smoothly.
Fairfax's voter-approved ban, which is much broader than the county's law, has been in place and working well since 2009.
Based on the first few weeks, retailers and customers seem ready for Marin's law. They've seen the litter and don't need to be convinced that reusable and paper bags are more earth-friendly alternatives.