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Grocers: Proposed plastic-bag ban has wrinkles

Original post made on Apr 3, 2008

In a rare meeting Thursday morning, major local grocers urged the City of Palo Alto to go beyond merely banning plastic bags. They favor a more comprehensive plan — including all of the city's retailers — that would ban plastic carryout bags and charge customers for paper bags.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, April 3, 2008, 2:28 PM

Comments (86)

Posted by Davey, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 3, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Another reason why I'll be doing all my shopping in Mt. View or Menlo Park. Who needs the hassle? I feel bad for anyone who has to do business in Palo Alto.

Posted by Live in PA--Shop in MV, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 3, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Isn't that a contradiction in terms --"major local grocers"--we don;t have really major grocers in town anymore. I guess by PA standards, they are major. As Davey said, I will doing my shopping in MV.
this is another plan that will drive more shoppers to other cities.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I disagree that it will make more people shop in Mountain View and Menlo Park, as many people do that anyway and for those who don't, I see so many people using reusable bags at Piazzas that it will probably make people think twice. I expect that Menlo and Mtn View will probably do something similar as this is going on all over the place.

No, what will be more interesting is what the stores at Stanford will do. I recently bought a gift at a boutique type store and as I mentioned that it was to be taken with me on a plane and I didn't need it gift wrapped, the necklace was put into a small box, a separate box, many sheets of gift wrap, a load of ribbon and then a large carrier bag, were all given with me for my purchase. I could have put the necklace in my purse, but instead it was a huge bag I was given to carry around the mall. So, I think that even with charging customers for a bag, Stanford will be hard to get to move into this type of method.

Posted by Cool Grocery Bags, a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2008 at 4:11 pm

500 billion: Number of plastic bags consumed worldwide every year (1 million per minute)

One of the simplest ways to have a positive environmental impact is to use reusable grocery bags.

Web Link

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Buy reusable bags at your supermarket, don't buy expensive ones!!

Stop advertising.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Plastic bags are a convenience to shoppers. If the waste disposal folk are not capable of accomodating a waste stream that includes plastic bags then reopen the competition to someone that can. Like many of the excuses for government intrusion into the marketplace, this ban is based on lousy science and Stalinist pettifoggery. I will continue to ask for plastic and if refused, offer the grocer the alternative of placing the groceries in the bin in my car or losing the sale.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Great idea Walter.

I have a family member in another country who has a technology at her supermarket which allows this sort of thing and is much quicker. Everyone buys (or somehow acquires) a special bin for their trunk. This bin is taken out of the trunk as you park and put onto a specialised cart before entering the store. Then as you walk round the store you put the groceries into the bin. As you go through the checkout, there is no need to remove the groceries as the scanner automatically scans all the groceries (somehow the bar codes can be read regardless of how many there are) and the clerk just does the money transaction. The club card is registered from the bin and the whole checkout business takes less than a minute. The cart is taken back to the car and the bin is transferred by rollers into the trunk. Then at home, the bin is taken into the house for putting straight into storage. No bags, just goods.

This is the real use of technology to make our lives easier. Why we need to keep stacking, packing and restacking our groceries is just a waste of time?

Posted by Bob, a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2008 at 5:03 pm

comes mothers and fathers throughout the land-
and don't criticize what you can't understand-
your sons and your daugters are beyond your command-
your old road is rapidly aging-
please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand
for the times they are a changing

Posted by Sanford Forte, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 3, 2008 at 6:21 pm

Whole Foods has already committed to ending plastic bag use by "Earth Day"
Web Link

Here are a few alternative solutions:
Web Link

Web Link

Posted by just a thought, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2008 at 6:33 pm

Amazing how people are... so spoiled they can't consider making an effort to stop using plastic bags... This says volumes about the kind of people we have around here.

I don't understand what the big deal is. It's easy to own 4 or 5 canvas bags and leave them in one's car to have handy on grocery shopping outings.

Posted by S.Krafft, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2008 at 6:33 pm for lots of info on where to buy bags locally. Or get out all those cloth bags you got at all the business conferences and trade shows you went to then you don't have to buy bags.

Country Sun eliminated plastic bags before Whole Foods. Piazza's is not going to reorder any more plastic bags once their stock is depleted.

Paper or plastic- both are disposables. Reusable is best and does not take much effort or cost. It can't get much easier than that.

Posted by Judy, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 3, 2008 at 7:00 pm

A week or so ago I saw a documentary on tv about a 'garbage area' in the Pacific Ocean. This fellow scoops out, with a large net, the junk that accumulates there.
Plastic bags break up into small pieces and attach themselves like barnacles to other objects (like rocks). Ugly and horrible, and of course inedible by ocean creatures.
Really awful. What's the big deal about taking a bag with you when you shop? I've been doing it for a long time.

Posted by Local Critic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 3, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Gee Walter- you're looking pretty lazy now!

Posted by Jim H, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 3, 2008 at 9:28 pm

I use plastic bags because they have handles. I can carry 6 bags at a time into my house, wrapping them over my arms. The paper bags offered by the "major" supermarkets don't have handles. I can carry at most 2 at a time.

I am NOT going to make 4 trips to my car because someone decides that it's "green". Grow up. Give me a practical alternative.

Posted by Judy, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 3, 2008 at 9:51 pm

Poor Jim, I think he missed his nap this afternoon. He's having a hissy fit on the BMW thread too.
There, there, Jim, things will be better tomorrow.

Posted by Jim H, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 3, 2008 at 10:37 pm

Yeah, I missed my nap. So did Adolph Hitler when he decided what was "right" for the world. What's the difference here????

Posted by Katie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 3, 2008 at 11:34 pm

I will probably be crucified for saying this, but COME ON! Seriously. Charging for paper bags?? And not allowing the use of plastic bags?? So what, in reality, will this mean? That Gladlock or some other brand of plastic bag producing company is going to crank up their prices for every single kind of bag that they make. There goes my bathroom and bedroom garbage bags, the poo bags that I use to clean up my dogs crap everyday, as well as my lunch bag on occasion. Plastic bags are so convienant, reusable and recyclable...what is all of the fuss about?

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2008 at 1:56 am

All the fuss is about another Carrie Nation opportunity for some folk to demonstrate their superiority over Joe Sixpack. Throw another virgin into the volcano.

Posted by Bag boy, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 4, 2008 at 2:13 am

Walter, so now you're an Aztec priest?

Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2008 at 7:56 am

Like I said before Walter,

get out of the new road if you can't lend a hand
the times they are a changing

(dont forget your old road is rapidly aging old sport!

Posted by selfish, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2008 at 7:59 am

I use plastic bags because they are so easy to carry-
much like Jim above- I don't have to make so many trips-
back and forth-
they work for me-
and if we must go to hell in a bucket-
well- at least I am enjoying the ride!

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 4, 2008 at 8:14 am

I have 4 Trader Joe bags that I keep in my car. They are sized to be easy to carry - I can carry all 4 at once. I don't like making multiple trips to my car either and these have the advantage of not breaking. Also, the straps are more comfortable to carry then the plastic bag handles. But I can't use them to clean up after my dog...

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2008 at 9:59 am

Every 20 years... Here's the current PA code on shopping bags:


5.35.010Findings and purpose.
The council finds and declares as follows:
(a)The use of plastic bags by grocery stores has increased dramatically in recent years. Many other retail merchants have joined in the trend toward plastic bags.
(b)Plastic bags represent an unnecessary use of a nonrenewable resource and an increasing percentage of the waste stream.
(c)It is the intent of the council to reduce these negative impacts by requiring all grocery stores and other retail establishments to offer consumers only paper bags or a choice between paper bags and plastic bags.
(Ord. 3908 § 1 (part), 1989)

5.35.020Requirement for paper bags only, or choice of paper or plastic bags.
Every person, partnership, corporation, or association engaged in the sale of goods to consumers for ultimate consumption (hereinafter "retailer") shall provide paper bags only or shall offer each consumer a choice between paper or plastic bags for goods purchased by the consumer. If the retailer offers consumers a choice of paper or plastic bags at the checkstand, cash register or other point of departure, he shall inquire of each consumer whether the consumer requires or prefers that the goods purchased be placed in paper or plastic bags. The goods shall be placed in the type of bag requested by the consumer.
(Ord. 3908 § 1 (part), 1989)

5.35.030Special provisions for grocery stores, supermarkets, produce stores and other similar retail establishments.
In addition to offering paper bags at the checkstand, cash register or other point of departure, grocery stores, supermarkets, produce or meat markets and other similar retail establishments shall also offer consumers paper bags only or a choice between paper bags and plastic bags in produce, bulk foods or meat departments which may be present on site.
(Ord. 3908 § 1 (part), 1989)

(a)Anyone violating or failing to comply with any of the requirements of this chapter shall be guilty of an infraction as set forth in Chapter 1.08 of the Palo Alto Municipal Code.
(b)The city attorney may seek legal, injunctive, or other equitable relief to enforce this chapter.
(c)The remedies and penalties provided in this section are cumulative and not exclusive.
(Ord. 3908 § 1 (part), 1989)

Posted by Live in PA--Shop in MV, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 4, 2008 at 10:07 am

So this issue has been on the books for 20 years, but successive City Councils have done nothing about it, but now that "climate change" is an issue for photo-ops and posturing, some members of the council want "action".

Does this also mean that we will no longer have plastic bags in the fruit/vegetable aisles to put our produce in??

Posted by Becky Trout, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Apr 4, 2008 at 11:01 am

Becky Trout is a registered user.

Hi all,

Now, only carryout bags are slated to be banned. Next, the city would like to look at banning Styrofoam.

And, another issue is how many stores are affected. All stores, or just the 13 biggest groceries and pharmacies?

Posted by Live in PA--Shop in MV, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 4, 2008 at 11:14 am

Thanks Becky for the clarification.
Seems more and more like "feel good legislation"--if the council is serious then ban all plastic bags--produce ones, the ones that bread and other products come in etc.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2008 at 11:28 am

The Aztechs threw virgins in volcanos even though there was no demonstrable evidence this improved anything, and the practice was obviously not beneficial to virgins. This is an exact parallel to most of the LibLud Warmie ukases.

Posted by Casey, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2008 at 11:33 am

"And, using the fees as an incentive, the city and merchants should join in a major effort to get everyone to use cloth bags, some grocers proposed at the meeting."

Talk about a misstatement. That should be using fees as a PENALTY. If you give me a buck to not use a plastic bag, that would be an INCENTIVE.

Also, why does the article refer to plastic bags as single-use bags? Doesn't everyone reuse plastic bags as trash bags or am I the only one? If you ban plastic bags at the checkout, then I will have to buy them myself at Costco. The plastic bag is going to be used in either situation.

Posted by Live in PA--Shop in MV, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 4, 2008 at 12:06 pm

I always use mine for garbage--I never throw out empty plastic bags.
i even re-use the produce variety bags as well.

AS i said, sounds like "feel good legislation", which later on the council will be able to pat themselves on the back about

Posted by Mary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2008 at 12:13 pm

What happens to our plastic wrapped newspapers when delivered in the rain? How will those be delivered? Not to the dry front door, I'll betcha.

Posted by Neal, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 4, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Plastic bags are not single use items. Everyone I get is reused for wet garbage, dog poop, etc. Paper bags just won't do. If plastic bags are banned I will purchase plastic bags from another source.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Turns out Styrofoam was banned 20 years ago as well. Then the foam cup manufacturers figured out how to make cups without CFCs.

So on the one hand no one can say this issue hasn't been raised before. On the other hand it would be nice to see some evidence that today's Styrofoam is any worse than waxed and plasticized paper cups.

There's a vision here that we'll walk to Whole Foods with a reusable string bag and visit Peets with an insulated travel mug. It's not a bad vision for anyone planning to buy fresh foods daily. It will make those who plan to bring several 2L soda bottles home weekly a bit uncomfortable.

Wouldn't it be great if ABAG could take up issues like these and get them enacted regionally? Palo Alto just doesn't have the scale to make a difference.


5.30.030Prohibition on the use of chlorofluorocarbon-processed food packaging.
No retail food vendor or restaurant located or doing business in the city of Palo Alto shall purchase, obtain, keep, sell, distribute or provide to customers or otherwise use in its business, any CFC-processed food packaging, except as provided in Section 5.30.050.
(Ord. 3869 § 1 (part), 1989)

5.30.040Food packaging - Proof of compliance.
(a)Every restaurant and every retail food vendor shall show proof of compliance with Section 5.30.030 of this code by one of the following means: (1) entering into a contract with its suppliers, which provides that the supplier will supply only food packaging not manufactured with CFCs, or (2) obtaining a written statement from its suppliers, which provides that the supplier will supply only food packaging not manufactured with CFCs, or (3) obtaining a written statement from the supplier on each invoice for food packaging that the food packaging invoiced was not CFC-processed.
(b)It shall be unlawful for any supplier to make a false statement regarding use or non-use of CFCs in the manufacture of any food packaging supplied to any retail food vendor or restaurant.
(c)Restaurants and retail food vendors shall retain copies of each contract or written statement required by this section and shall make them available for inspection by the city manager or his designated representative upon request. Invoices and contracts required by this section shall be retained for a period of one year. It shall be unlawful for anyone having custody of such documents to fail or refuse to produce such documents upon request by the city manager or his representative during normal business hours.
(Ord. 3869 § 1 (part), 1989)

Posted by Kind of Sad, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 4, 2008 at 6:31 pm

It's kind of sad that our council spends their time on wooly-headed issues like this instead of how to run a good town. If people care about not using plastic - they don't have to. This is about forcing people who WANT plastic to instead using a bag that costs 10x more. That price tells us something about the materials, labor, land, and energy required to bring that bag to the store.

And the idea that we might even FORCE stores to charge for use of bags, which now are FREE - so essentially a tax for the privilege of shopping in Palo Alto.

How about the merchants compete for share by providing a discount for re-usable bags? If it doesn't work - I guess that tells us something about how much people care about this issue.

Finally, can anyone make a sensible case about why this matters? Aside from the argument that plastic is "bad" and paper somehow "better"? It is a sad spectacle, seeing our town actually spend its time on something that seems as knee-jerk and silly as this.

Posted by ChrisK, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 4, 2008 at 9:23 pm

We found a very nice set of synthetic cloth bags at Redwood Trading Post. Each bag is about the size of a paper grocery sack, with handles designed in. No huge advertising logo. The set of six stuffs into a small sack that is about the size of a travel mug, so it's easy to keep handy in the car.

These bags are better than the thin plastic ones (handles don't dig into your hands) or the paper ones (won't tear).

There are better sources of bags for wet waste - there are some good bags on the market that will decompose in the trash stream, rather than sticking around "forever".

Yeah, it's sort of a pain. For me, it's worth it not to see the plastic bags blowing around the streets and parks. I saw just how bad that can get in Scotland and Ireland before they banned plastic bags, and am happy to support decisions that keep us from going there.

Posted by Lisa, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2008 at 10:03 pm

Walter's suggestion/ analogy to throwing virgins into the fire is interesting. I suggest we throw crabby old geezers in first. Unlike virgins, they are useless, consume scarce resources, and contribute nothing of value to the world around them.

Posted by good idea, a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2008 at 12:47 am

wrapped them in plastic bags

Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2008 at 5:55 am

My volcany analogy was to the practice of another failed civilization, not an advocacy of the practice. I can appreciate, Lisa, the angst that anything that threatens your programmed comfort zone can cause. Just imagine living in the Ted Turner or Gore world instead of the world where my challenges to contemporary practices helped bring an end to the wasteful practices of segregation and gender bias. With Turner you probably wouldn't make the cut, with Mr. Tipper you would doff your cap and curtsey as he limo'd past. As for throwing me in, others have tried.

Posted by Gail, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 5, 2008 at 8:48 am

I like plastic bags, preferably the biodegradable kind. I use them as trash can liners at home and to haul small items. Those that are worn out get recycled.

How is this pollution?

Also, how do you keep folks from shoplifting if they bring their own bags into the market?

Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2008 at 9:21 am

Excellent point, Gail. You are a credit to your sex.

Posted by Cooper, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2008 at 1:59 pm

The grocery stores don't have an issue with reusable bags and shoplifting. Chain grocery stores have been selling reusable bags for 15 years (at least) now. They obviously figured out how to prevent it. They are not opposed to the use of reusable bags so it is a non-issue.

If people have to pay for their animal poo bags and garbage can liners I bet you will see a behavior change in how they are used. Do you really need a grocery bag sized bag for your animal poo? There are animal poo bags for sale at the store that are appropriately sized.

And if you are composting your food at home and recycling all your other stuff in the blue bin, what is wet that you are putting in your garbage that you need a liner? Do you need a liner for your Kleenex, really? The City offers all the programs you need to help you make so little or no waste so why do you still have this problem or are you just resistant to change?

Just because someone reuses a bag, doesn't mean it is reusable. There is a definition of what a reusable bag is- it must be DESIGNED for multiple uses and be of a certain thickness- neither paper, plastic or the starchy bags meet that- they are designed by their manuf. to be used once. The city has this info on their web site now.

Other countries don't have an issue with personal responsibility so they are not consuming natural resources on ridiculous disposable baqs. For those of you that don't understand the connection with natural resources and consumption, maybe you should go back to 3rd grade and take a class or maybe we could put together a "natural resources for dummies" (electronic file of course) cheat sheet for all of you that didn't go to elementary school or forgot what you learned.

The amount of disposable bags being consumed in Ca is over 20 Mil per year.

Posted by So, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 5, 2008 at 2:35 pm

Cooper, that holier than thou attitude is what turns a lot of people off toward some environmentalists. Do you have a real argument, or is "it's obvious" all there is?

Posted by Housewife, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2008 at 4:03 pm


A list of things that need to be put into a bag of some description before being put into my black garbage bin (or are you coming to clean it for me each week?)

Turkey carcasses, chicken bones, fish heads and skins, etc. before or after they have made soup.

Wrappers for meats, either cooked or raw.

Fat and other meat scraps which cannot go into compost.

Cat litter, hamster bedding and other pet debris.

Used feminine hygiene products.

Broken glass from accidental mishaps.

And, those are what I can think of without too much effort, there must be a great deal more.

Posted by Housewife, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2008 at 4:06 pm

And another thing, I don't use kleenex, I prefer proper handkerchiefs which are re-usable. I have had some of mine for over 20 years.

Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 5, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Cloth diapers take a LOT of water to wash and rinse. Using water is now an environmental NO NO. "Disposable diapers" means throw away like "Kleenex", and they go in the trash. And common sense mandates diapers go in a plastic sack of some sort. Try telling parents it is politically incorrect to wash diapers and use water or dispose of them and mess up the landfill. This whole thing is going to get very 'silly". I presume the rules are being written by men.

Posted by Modest Proposal, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 6, 2008 at 12:12 pm

It is good we are getting ahead of the curve in banning plastic bags, which obviously are bad for the earth since they are not often reused and are made from a non-renewable resource. But we are merely copying San Francisco. Can't we truly be leaders, and think more broadly about what behaviors should be banned?

I have some modest proposals that I urge the City Council and City officials to consider immediately. These will establish Palo Alto as the leader among US towns, and cement our reputation as a environmental pacesetter. Here they are:

- ban all short car trips - these waste gas, generate disproportionate greenhouse gases, and wear down roads. Instead, citizens should ride bikes or walk, which will be good for their health. We can start by enforcing a "no car drop-off" rule at all public schools, other than by permit (if the student lives >2 miles away).

- ban sale of disposable diapers - these clog landfills and waste paper products. Again a ready, proven alternative is available - cloth diapers.

- ban sale of kleenex, paper napkins, and disposible plates and utensils - This is a no-brainer. Handkerchiefs and cloth napkins are clearly available (and used by some); everyone has re-usable dishes and silver. There is no excuse for this waste of resources.

- ban sale of ziplock, glad, and other plastic bags - these are no different from the plastic bags used in store, and are merely an indulgent convenience that can easily be done without. Paper sacks are available that compost better, or for in-home use, re-usable metal or ceramic. These symbols of the "use-once" culture should be eliminated.

- limit all road repair - road repair uses oil-intensive asphalt and encourages more driving. Why should we invest to support this anti-environmental and anti-social behavior? Potholes and bumps also serve to calm traffic, which is important if we encourage more walking and biking. This will also help the city budget.

I'm sure others can contribute to this list and come up with many more. Banning plastic store bags is merely symbolic - we should really make a difference and show our environmental leadership in everything we do. With a few simple acts by the City Council, we can set the example for every progressive US city on what can and should be done.

Who's with me? Let's start a petition!

Posted by KT, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2008 at 12:32 am

Cooper, have you seen the size of my dog and what comes out of her....yes, I need a very large plastic grocery bag to clean up after her. It is either that or you step in it when you walk out your front door. I don't think that you would be too happy 'bout that! I really don't think that we need to get too nitty gritty on what type of bag can potentially be re-used and what cannot. Come on....I have been reusing plastic bags since I was 10. Besides that...paper bags only cause the destruction of trees, which ruin various ecosystems and contribute to global warming. If the stores are going to get all weird about plastic bags I would be willing to pay a small fee for long as it doesn't equal the amount of money that I would have to spend for poo bags. If they get rid of the produce bags I am going to be a little ticked...I don't want my produce all over those filthy coughed on carts and conveyor belts..yuck.

Posted by Justin Case, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Let's all reduce, reuse, and recycle. Many of us use reusable bags almost all (if not all) of the time now, but let us not make a law against plastic bags. That is a bit extreme.

Posted by Shopper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2008 at 3:05 pm

I think a total prohibition would be foolish. I usually take my own reusable bags when I go grocery shopping keeping my bags in the car but occasionally I pop to the store when I am not in my car, or have forgotten to replace them into my car. I also do occasionally ask my husband or kids to get something for me on the way home and they would not have bags. For this reason, I think charging 5c a bag or reminding them to bring their own bag next time would be far better than any type of prohibition.

Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Is Palo Alto becoming Berkeley? Apparently I need to move. Did you see the recent reports that this anti plastic bag hysteria is based on bad science?

Web Link

Please deliver me from this insanity. Let's concentrate on safety and security in our community. Let's act locally on local issues before we start thinking too globally. The government of Palo Alto is the government of Palo Alto - nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by Student, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 13, 2008 at 4:27 pm

I am an environmental studies major and recently learned (in my environmental engineering class) that the production of paper bags actually consumes much more energy and water than that of plastic bags AND generates a lot more air pollution (this analysis was based on an estimate that paper bags have 2-3 times the capacity of plastic bags). This doesn't even take into account the fact that plastic bags can generally be reused many more times than paper bags.

Granted, this doesn't address the biodegradability issues associated with plastic bags or the damage they do to marine/aquatic ecosystems (which really isn't a fictitious problem), but it's important to remember that air quality, water resources, and carbon emissions are also significant in terms of environmental impact of product use.

This all being said, clearly the best option is reusable bags. They put the least waste in our landfills and cause the least damage to our environment and they are a high quality, sturdy option for carrying groceries. I don't think that the complete eradication of plastic bags is feasible at this point, but to all those who are too lazy, grouchy, and resistant to change to consider using cloth bags for grocery shopping: please suck it up and make a TINY effort to diminish your personal negative impact on our planet. Thanks.

Posted by Modest Proposal, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 13, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Thanks Student. Nothing like a little data to embarrass our knee-jerk environmental activism.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 14, 2008 at 10:03 am

The last I heard was a proposed 15c or even 25c per bag charge at the State level.

Before this gets too ridiculous for words, why can't we just use cloth, and then when the occasional bag is needed, recycle back at the store or at someother place. After all, we get plastic bags when we buy bread and other items as well as goods shrink wrapped in plastic like paper towels and crates of bottled drinks, and all these can be recycled at the same time.

Posted by George Berlin, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 14, 2008 at 11:35 am

All leaders of the world, George W. Bush, etc., should imprison plastic-bag-users and launch precision air strikes on the factories that produce plastic bags. Also, send all paper and canvas bags back to Mexico. People should only use thier arms, hands and pockets to carry groceries.

Dr. George Berlin, Phb
Stafford University
Palo Alto, KA

Posted by anon, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Maybe a 1 cent cost for bags, and when you return the bag to the grocery store you get your 1 cent back. sort of like the crv on canned beverages.
In Budapest grocery stores don't provide plastic bags, everyone brings their own containers. And if you forget to bring one, you can buy paper bags for ~5c each.

Posted by In My Town, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 14, 2008 at 3:50 pm

In India, lots of people wipe their butt with their hand, thereby saving toilet tissue. Can't we pass a law on that? Or at least increase the tax on toilet paper, say, to 1 cent a square for those who insist on wasting paper.

Posted by trudy, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Canvas bags (which, of course, have handles) work just as well or better than plastic bags for carrying groceries. They have a larger capacity and more comfortable handles.

I have been trying to get away from using plastic trash bags. If you compost, there is surprisingly little wet stuff that has to go in the trash. What there is I leave in the sink for a few hours and it dries enough to go into a paper trash bag with no problem.

This probably doesn't work for meat scraps, I dunno, as I'm a vegetarian, which is better for the environment anyway.

Dog poop is about the only other thing I can think of that requires plastic.

I've moved away from Palo Alto, but don't you have plastic bag recycling bins at grocery stores as in the northeast? Those bins also accept plastic bread wrappers, etc.

Energy and pollution regardless, plastic is with us forever unless its recycled, paper degrades.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 16, 2008 at 12:58 pm

If Palo Alto bans plastic grocery bags then I have to BUY plastic bags for the dog poop, to line the small garbage cans, wet PE clothes (swimming at Paly),... Many people in this city reuse and recycle plastic bags. Wouldn't banning them force people to buy and use more plastic bags?

If anyone has an idea about the dog poop, I would welcome it :-)

Posted by Peter, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2008 at 1:03 pm

You can buy bio-degradable plastic bags.

Posted by George, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 16, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Will paper bags save the planet?

Posted by pb, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2008 at 1:48 pm

"Wouldn't banning them force people to buy and use more plastic bags?"
I can see how it might force buying bags, but forcing you to USE more? I don't get that. Your need for plastic bags would either remain the same or decrease where you find acceptable work-arounds. As for suggestions - how about shopping outside Palo Alto as needed, or offering to take them off your neighbors' hands?

Posted by HillbillyHell, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2008 at 12:58 pm

What's wrong with plastic bags in the first place? More the half the consumer products we buy are manufactured with plastic.

Posted by KrazyKat, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 21, 2008 at 12:59 pm

Save a tree.....go plastic.

Posted by SpaceJam, a resident of Monroe Park
on Apr 21, 2008 at 1:01 pm

"Ben, just one word...PLASTICS."

Posted by Booklover, a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2008 at 5:11 pm

Wow, this is amazing.

Have you not seen the plastic bags stuck in trees, in fences, blowing all over the place? They will not degrade quickly. They harm the environment. They are wasteful and currently environmentally damaging.

We are spoiled in this country. And we choose to dislike environmentalists (tree huggers to the really angry) if we feel they are lecturing us on how we aught to behave. To be kind to the planet, to leave it in better shape than we came into it - that is a noble idea. Can't you buy into it gracefully? Can't you carry four bags made of light weight fabric instead of plastic? If not, why?

Palo Alto is a study in contradictions. So many progressive intelligent people mixed with so many folks who don't want to change anything at all, regardless of the blasted consequences.

I say to the later spoiled children, go to your room!

Disappointed in PA, where I work.

Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 21, 2008 at 7:12 pm

In all the conversation about elimination of plastic bags I have yet to read about the fact that proper disposal of cat waste requires plastic bags. For years now, I have felt obliged to explain this every time I've requested plastic bags at the grocery store. It is unfortunate that so few cat owners are aware of Toxoplasma gondii and the connection between cat waste and otter deaths. Sewage treatment plants do not remove this parasite.

I've been told that using plastic bags for disposal of cat waste is the official position of the State of California. I tried to find the actual policy statement online but failed. However, there are many sites with information concerning this issue. Following is some information from one of them. Although only sea otters are mentioned in this excerpt I have read that fresh water otters are also vulnerable to this parasite

Web Link

"Scientists and researchers have recently discovered a correlation between Toxoplasma gondii and the decrease in the sea otter population off the California Coast. Since cats are the only creatures that shed the T. gondii parasite, through their feces, there seems to be a direct link. Don't Flush: Even if you use a "flushable litter," dispose of used litter, including feces and clumps by placing it in a plastic bag, tying tightly, and putting it in the garbage can. Land wastes, where your garbage will end up, are covered with soil and have membranes to prevent pollution of ground water."

When I change the entire contents of a litter box I use a large plastic garbage bag but in between I remove all solid waste and urine clumps at least once a day from each of our cat boxes and I use plastic bags from the grocery and other stores for this purpose. People also use them for picking up dog poo.

What are we supposed to do if plastic bags are banned? Are we to buy new bags for cat poo? That surely can't be the answer but I've yet to hear what the answer is by the "ban the plastic bag" people. This environmental issue needs to be addressed as there are a lot of cat owners out here who don't know what we are supposed to do: avoid plastic bags or save otters.

Posted by Anna, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 21, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Booklover displays the preening arrogance and authoritarian moralism that gives environmentalism the bad name (s)he decries.

There is in fact a reasonable dispute as to whether on balance plastic bags are more environmentally damaging than what replaces them when they're banned. Moreover whatever we do, whether keep cats, heat our houses in the winter, commuting from "another community" to a job in Palo Alto - or merely existing, we're disturbing the environment. The question is always, is the pleasure we get from the things we do in our daily lives worth the environmental harm?

Would Booklover care to submit his/her life to scrutiny so that we can all decide whether the lifestyle Booklover is living -including that commute- balances the harm to the environment Booklover causes by existing in the way (s)he does?

If we're to avoid becoming a society ruled by paternalistic busybodies, most of the choices we make have to be private choices. Whether to use plastic bags, own a cat, or commute to palo alto from someplace else, it should be up to us as individuals to make the proper trade-offs.

Booklover obviously doesn't want to do this.

I would suggest (s)he try reading John Locke...or even the US Constitution.

Posted by High Standards, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Jim H.:
I am sorry some of the other posters were less than polite to you. You brought up a legitimate issue. You find you can carry a lot of stuff with plastic, so that's what you use, but you'll consider a better alternative if someone can give it to you.

Here it is: those reusable bags that Whole Foods, Piazza's, Country Sun, Target, etc. sell made by GreenBags, .

I got a few because they were cheap and I needed some bags for other reasons, and they are AMAZING. I find canvas bags to be to heavy and inconvenient. These Green Bags are light, have a stiff bottom (that can be removed if desired), easy to fold, carry, and store - they fold into nothing. Also, they stand up and stay open better than plastic so they are easier to pack and unload than plastic bags. The handles are just the right length and strength so that you can sling several of these OVER YOUR SHOULDER and carry several over your arms or in your hands if you wish. You can pack more into them. I think you will find you can carry far more with these than with plastic which rips and tears with the capacity you can pack into these.

These are so convenient, I'm annoyed at myself if I forget to take them into the store, because I find the plastic and paper bags so much less convenient. Not that I ever forget much these days. I bought several, fold them up after unpacking them and put them by the door, where I grab them on the way out and put in the trunk of the car. I use them now not just for grocery shopping, but other shopping as well, and even for carting around other things. The reason you see so many of these around now is that they are just so much better. I'm telling you, they are really way better than the alternatives, including paper and plastic disposables AND canvas. They also stay cleaner than canvas somehow, but it's my understanding that they are washable (the stiff bottom pulls out easily).

They are also very cheap, and sometimes stores will give them away. I got many of mine at Whole Foods for 99 cents each, or free sometimes there or at Country Sun. I hope whoever invented this product is making a ton of money on the patent, because s/he deserves it! If it had been invented years ago, that's what I would have been using.

And, if you think 99 cents is a lot to pay for the bag, most stores will give you 5 cents per bag refund if you bring reusables.

Posted by High Standards, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:38 pm

I agree with you, I use mine a lot. Target actually sells one that zips up and can be kept in a purse or backpack for when you need it. They are also great for carrying library books.

I have also bought the Costco bags, although they are made of a different material. They are great for Costco items as you need sensible sized bags for the bulk items there and these are a great size. They also have two handles each side, one long for holding over the should and one short for using by hand, particularly if two people end up carrying the filled bag inside. These are also great for park days with lunches to carry the non-cooler stuff or for sand toys, or for sports equipment.

We will still have plastic bags coming into our homes. We get them on bread and bread products, vegetables, etc. and will continue to get them from dry cleaners, and department and drugstores. Sometimes you can tell them you don't need a bag, other times you can get your own fold up one out.

It will become a habit to carry bags just the same as we carry diaper bags when we have a baby.

If you don't want to participate, don't. We shouldn't force anyone. But, like smoking, getting bags with our groceries will turn into something we hide away in embarrassment from.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 21, 2008 at 10:39 pm

Sorry, my above comment was meant to be signed resident and addressed to High Standards.

Posted by Booklover, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2008 at 10:49 am

"The question is always, is the pleasure we get from the things we do in our daily lives worth the environmental harm?"

Is this really the question? Our pleasure vs. the environment?

I commute in my hybrid vehicle. I try to walk the walk. I would derive more pleasure driving my Volvo, but opted to sell it for the socially responsible Honda Civic hybrid. It works well, saves me money, etc.

But this is a conversation about plastic bags. I reuse mine when I get them. Hopefully most of us do.

I too have the bags you can buy from the markets. My biggest problem is remembering, but I am making the effort.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 22, 2008 at 1:05 pm

At the bottom of it, yes, that is the question - pleasure, perceived utility, personal value - call it what you will. One's person's "convenience" is another's high priority.

I pay big bucks to live in Palo Alto; that gives me a short commute in my SUV - I drive about 5000 miles a year. Am I more virtuous than someone who drives 15000 miles a year in a hybrid? I drive a 15 year old Jeep - it takes a lot of energy to make a new car, so am I more virtuous by "re-using" than someone with a spanking new Prius?

The market, and pricing, helps us make those choices, in the context of our individual preferences. Capture the externalities via producer regulation (which drives costs which drives pricing) and let individual choices sort it out through the market.

Posted by Anna, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 22, 2008 at 2:01 pm

"I try to walk the walk. I would derive more pleasure driving my Volvo, but opted to sell it for the socially responsible Honda Civic hybrid. "

That "socially responsible" hybrid is "socially responsible" only in comparison to an SUV, and even then as Me Too points out, it depends on how much you drive it. In fact any American auto owner has a carbon footprint that dwarfs that of the average global resident and it is self deception on the part of environmental automatons like Booklover that allows them to pretend they're being responsible by sacrificing their Volvos for hybrids. I bet she uses compact fluorescents too. And then she gets to look down her nose at those of us who don't like her support of plastic bag bans.

The act of living has an impact on the environment. Here is the us, we have many choices about how we live and how we affect the environment. Booklover chooses to commute in a polluting automobile. She could work at home. She could live in a tent. She could do a better job "remembering" to take her reusable bag to the store. Or better yet, she could stop shopping altogether and live a prehistoric bare sustenance lifestyle. (That would cost her a lot less so she could give up her polluting commute to a job where she no doubt burns a lot of electric energy doing whatever she does.)

We all make choices. But those who think the choices they make allow them to dictate choices for the rest of us are choosing a kind of tyranny we don't need.

Posted by Booklover, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2008 at 3:29 pm

I apologize to the group for arguing with a couple of people. I understand that these are all personal choices, whether law dictates or not. Also, I got off the topic of plastic bags into cars and more. I will not participate in this increasingly hostle discussion any longer. Have at it!

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2008 at 8:21 pm

There is not a proposal to ban plastic bags completely in Palo Alto, just to prohibit stores from giving them away for free. If you really need plastic bags for some purpose, you can still buy them. I don't understand why people expect stores to provide them with bags for free. When you get something for free you will throw it away without thinking. If you pay for something you will be a bit more careful to preserve its value.

Posted by Me Too, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 23, 2008 at 2:01 am

Donald, you make a good point about what is proposed. But you are missing what is going on with the retailers.

They don't give us the bag "for free" - they build the cost of the bag, the cashier, the store, etc., into their prices. They could, if they wanted, charge for bags today - but since consumers would hate that, nobody does.

What retailers would LOVE (and as they have proposed) is if the city mandated that all retailers CHARGE for bag - essentially a tax on consumers (like sales tax) that they merely collect. They can then all try to keep their prices the same and save the money they used to spend on bags. Note that one of the elements of the retailer proposal is that stores be FORBIDDEN from absorbing a bag fee for the consumer.

I would still prefer to have stores compete for my business, by among other things, giving me free plastic or paper bags (and free parking, free carts, etc.). If PA thinks wants to tax plastic bags (which seems pretty dumb to me), they should just charge the bag usage fee stores and let the stores figure out if and how they want to charge their customers.

Posted by Boogalamoosh Treehugski, a resident of another community
on Apr 23, 2008 at 4:04 pm

In my country, GreenieWeenieStan, we do not even have grocery stores! We go to river, catch big fish, eat raw, then poop back out on bank as offering to fish mother goddess, Wiki-Wiki . . . poop then wash back into river feed fish. See? No bag, no waste, and recycle too. Same with large tubers we dig from ground: dig; eat; poop; repeat. We not worry about dog and cat poop anymore also . . . we eat all dogs and cats, solve problem. Ok. So that what you need do.

Posted by Safeway Shopper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 1:06 pm

I was in Safeway in Mtn View yesterday with my own reusable bags and the cashier told me that they would soon be charging for all bags. The bag stacker told me that she wished she had been given training as to how to pack the bags as they were more difficult.


Posted by Mary, a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2008 at 6:32 pm

Call me un-environmentally friendly, but I hate paper bags. I use plastic bags for everything, particularly in my small bathroom trash cans. The paper bags don't fit. Now that the paper bags are being forced on me, they either end up in my trash or I give them away in exchange to a co-worker who brings me plastic bags whenever he gets them from other stores.

As to the idea of paying for bags, I've lived in countries where you had to pay for your bags at the grocery store and I say fine, if you're going to charge me for bags, could I have plastic please?

Posted by Safeway Shopper, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 24, 2008 at 6:42 pm

Charging for bags (all bags) is fine. Giving discounts for reusable bags, equally fine.

The point is getting us to think about what we are getting. If we have uses for our plastic or brown grocery bags, fine. If we just get them because they are being given to us and we can do without them, by either using those we have brought with us or going without (who wants to put a gallon of milk in a bag?).

What we should be doing is getting what we need not getting what is given to us because we are just used to it. If we all start thinking about what our choice is and why we are choosing it then that is all it needs. Legislation is making us into thoughtless individuals. Choices and being asked if we actually want a bag makes us think, regardless of what our answers are.

I use reusable bags, but my husband and kids aren't going to have them with them if they happen to stop at the grocery store. We need to be able to be flexible in this area. No one should be made to do something they don't want. We are all in this together and we should be able to get along with something as simple as grocery bags.

Posted by a, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:36 am

All this effort over plastic bags.... just stop buying stuff from abroad and you'll do much more for the environment. Think about how much CO2 you put into the air importing stuff from around the globe. All that gas burned to ship it to you here. Geesh.

Posted by a, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2008 at 10:36 am

All this effort over plastic bags.... just stop buying stuff from abroad and you'll do much more for the environment. Think about how much CO2 you put into the air importing stuff from around the globe. All that gas burned to ship it to you here. Geesh.

Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Banning bags isn't enough. Palo Alto should take over the lives of its citizens and tell people EXACTLY how to live, where they can shop, etc. For example, once the bag ban is in place Palo Alto residents should be forced to shop only within city limits and prove they are doing this or pay an outside PA shopping surcharge of 10%. Residents should be banned from having Costco memberships. People should have to shop at low peak hours to reduce the heat strain on cooling system. Everything must be taxed, controlled and regulated by Palo Alto. It's a very smart city (wink) and undoubtedly will come up with smart policies to manage every aspect of its residents' lives. Welcome to Palo Alto -- the utopian, liberal, totalitarian state.

Posted by Anna S., a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 30, 2008 at 12:40 pm

So, do all you greenies use single-use plastic bags for your garbage? Or do you use cloth for that as well? I'm really puzzled about this. Personally I reuse the plastic checkout bags -- for trash, bagging laundry, all kinds of things. Now, I guess I will have to buy trash bags (which are thicker than checkout bags, and therefore worse for the environment), and then, I don't know, ask the checkers to bag my grocieries in them. Seems a little stupid.

Posted by reader, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 30, 2008 at 4:42 pm

Anna, since you asked . . . I've been using my own grocery bags for awhile now, and I really like them, but I have finally reached the end of my saved-up plastic and paper used bags. Since I always put the bag in a plastic bin and then empty that into the outside garbage can, I'm considering just putting the garbage in the bin without the bag, emptying the bin into the outside can, and washing out the bin when required. I don't think it's going to be a huge change.

Posted by woman, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Can you honestly tell me that you are going to put unwrapped meat wrappers, unwrapped feminine hygiene products, meat scraps, etc. into the garbage bin without wrapping them? That is just asking for trouble from rats, flies, raccoons, etc. And, as for the smell round your garbage?

Posted by reader, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 30, 2008 at 5:27 pm

Well, I can tell you honestly that even using bin liners, I don't exactly wrap my garbage up before putting it in the can. We don't have a lot of meat wrappers or meat scraps to throw away; maybe that's why it's never been a big problem. I don't consider myself a greenie, but somehow the thought of wrapping up wrappers just to throw them away boggles my mind.

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