Rohnert Park City Council bans plastic bags

Environmental experts say the key to an effective bag ordinance is public awareness about sustainable waste management.

Last Tuesday, the Rohnert Park City Council voted in favor of a single-use plastic bag ordinance across the Sonoma County. 

President of the Marin Conservation Link John Elam stated the next important phase of eliminating single-use plastic bags is to educate the public about adopting alternative products and practices that can be used to reduce waste.

“It is just one of the steps to try and get the population sensitized about the waste in the waste stream and what they can do to provide an alternative to reduce that waste. The real issue is trying to get people to think about their own personal waste stream,” said Elam.

Rocky Rohwedder, a professor in the department of environmental studies and planning at Sonoma State University, vocalized a public transition towards reusable bags as an effective way in reducing the waste stream.

“Paper or plastic is a false choice; we should all be using reusable bags. It really doesn’t make sense to be using something once or twice when you can buy one and use it hundreds of times,” said Rohwedder. “I hope that we are as aggressive in phasing in a conscience of reuse as we have been in banning plastic bags.”

Elam emphasized that the effectiveness of plastic bag bans is determined by comprehensive public education and awareness.

“The transition from using plastic bags to reusable bags is a public awareness effort,” said Elam.  

John McArthur, the City of Rohnert Park Representative on the Board of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, expanded on this idea by explaining the objectives of the Public Outreach Program that will be implemented to support the transition of eliminating single-use plastic bags.

“The Public Outreach Program will be implemented to steer society into using reusable bags not just paper bags,” said McArthur.

In a presentation to Rohnert Park Council on Jan. 14, project heads revealed the program is intended to develop numerous strategies to support both retailers and consumers transition toward no single-use plastic bags. Free distribution of reusable bags across the county at public events and retailer mail-outs in English and Spanish are some of the strategies included in the Public Outreach Program to encourage residents transition toward using reusable bags. 

McArthur said the program provides ample time and a wide range of support strategies for retailers and local businesses to adjust to the plastic bag ordinance.

“We want to give businesses time to adapt, we don’t just want to throw out an ordinance and say ‘that’s it’ and expect businesses to make the transition over night,” said McArthur. 

The program also included holding an education fair for retailers, developing bilingual graphics and performing a Hispanic business outreach seminar as key strategies to help businesses transition.

These strategies parallel those used in the San Francisco when their plastic bag ordinance was enforced on Oct. 1, 2012. Guillermo Rodriguez, communications director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, said public awareness advocates simple techniques that people can incorporate into their day-to-day lives.

“A lot of it is friendly reminders to customers and shoppers that they have a lot of reusable opportunities and, remind customers that there are a lot of easy things you can do to remind yourself, keep them in your trunk or your desk,” said Rodriguez.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment strongly utilized social media platforms to stir awareness and engage the youth demographic of the Bay Area about reusable bags.

“We also had a lot of fun with [the campaign], we asked people to take pictures of their reusable bags and post them up on the Environment Department’s Instagram site. The same was done with Facebook, to give people examples of what people are using as their own reusable bags. Anything from pillowcases, we’ve had a whole list of things that different people did,” said Rodriguez.

The City of Rohnert Park Council’s unanimous vote in favor of a law to prohibit single use plastic bags places the city with 90 other California jurisdictions who have enforced single-use plastic bag ordinances. 

McArthur commended the City of Rohnert Park for its vote and hopes that a statewide ordinance will be developed in the future.

“I applaud Sonoma County for taking a regional approach, ideally [California jurisdictions] probably should adopt something statewide, for uniformity,” said McArthur.