Paper or plastic? The age-old question retailers have been asking consumers is now a thing of the past for local businesses. On Sept. 1, the Waste Reduction Program for Carryout Bags Ordinance went into effect for all of Sonoma County.
The ordinance aims to keep plastic bags out of local waterways and encourages the use of reusable bags. Stores who continue to use disposable plastic bags are subjected to fines starting at $100 while shoppers can receive discounts for bringing their own reusable bags to stores such as Target. Paper bags will still be available to consumers for a fee of .10 cents per bag.
Many students have already made the switch from disposable to reusable bags such as sophomore Erica Kallestad.
“I haven’t been shopping since the ban, but will definitely be bringing my reusable bags with me to avoid the .10 cent fee. I also think the ban is a great way to reduce landfill,” said Kallestad.
Since San Francisco passed their plastic bag ban in 2008, the cities landfill has seen a decrease in the amount of plastic bags by 10 percent.
It is estimated by the World Watch Institute that Americans collectively throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags each year, approximately 350 to 500 bags per person. The average reusable bag has the lifespan of over 700 disposable plastic bags.
Laura A. Watt, associate professor and chair of environmental studies and planning said, “Plastic bags are a very wasteful way to use petroleum. There are enough oil shortages in the world as it is right now, why waste it on something that ends up on the side of the road.”
It takes nearly 12 million barrels of oil, about eight to 10 percent of all oil supplies to produce the amount of plastic bags the U.S. demands each year.
Sonoma is raising the bar for other cities and states to think greener and pass their own plastic bag ordinances. Dr. Watt described this as the ‘California effect’.
“Once other cities see how well something works, they will shortly follow suit. It’s always cool to be in the vanguard in doing something new and different,” said Watt.
California is well known for being environmentally responsible and for developing new ideas to keep the state beautiful.
“California was the first state to set levels on auto emissions. Car makers weren’t going to make special cars to just be sold in California , so they adopted these new emission level laws for all of their vehicles,” said Watt
Sonoma County’s goal is to spread awareness about the environmental impact residents have on the region by spreading the message of sustainability. The goal of this bill is to educate residence, not punish them.
“I think the ban will get people to think about other ways to recycle and to become more environmentally friendly. I am all for the ban and the use of reusable shopping bags, just keep them in the trunk of your car and you will never forget them when you go out shopping,” said Arielle Foley, junior.
Reusable bags can be purchased at many local stores for a small fee that usually goes to supporting the local business.
Bags can also be purchased online from websites such as reuseit.com for bags with designs along with other reusable products such as water bottles and lunch bags.
Making the switch from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags is something residents and retailers are going to have to make together to make our county a little better.