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Palo Alto's plastic-bag ban could begin in fall

Original post made on Mar 16, 2009

Plastic bags may soon flutter out of Palo Alto's supermarkets once and for all, but city officials hope this doesn't mean more customers will demand paper. The City Council will discuss the campaign -- known as the Comprehensive Reusable Bag Program -- at its meeting tonight.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, March 16, 2009, 9:19 AM

Comments (31)

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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:21 am

I suggest that the Council read the editorial in today's Daily Post about this issue.
I tend to agree that much of this push is being done to enhance the resumes of certain council members. Rather than relying on the environmental consciousness of the residents of PA (which is pretty high to begin with) the council will spend time discussing this and then possible placing a ban into law.
Clearly we have more important issues facing our city these days, but clearly the council does not want to have to face these issues.
Also considering that Drekmeier's reason d'etre is the "environment" this action is no surprise

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Posted by weird
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:29 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:44 am

With all the real problems facing our city (from increasing crime rates to deteriorating budgets to decaying streets and other infrastructure issues), I am outraged - but not surprised - that our council would spend their time, staff resources and the patience of residents dealing with this feel-good trendy, publicity generating, environmental talisman of an issue.

When will the voters stop voting for these grandstanding egoists - who imagine they're elected to save the world instead of run a small town? We get what we deserve I suppose.

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:47 am

If Palo Altans wanted to get rid of plastic bags, they could simply do it by asking for paper or bringing their own. Clearly a large majority do not, or there would be no need for the regulation.

Sure glad our high-paid and ample city staff is focused on the really important things in Palo Alto. I propose another round of bonuses for all this good hard work. Not their fault of course - the priorities are set by the Council.

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Posted by Willy
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2009 at 10:57 am

All is well that ends well......well, this issue will never end. !!

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Posted by JO
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 16, 2009 at 11:00 am

Open City Hall, the online forum that the City Council recently approved for a trial run, is accepting votes and comments until 12 noon today (Monday, March 16) on the plastic bag ban. The URL is Web Link

As of a couple of minutes ago, the vote was 13 in support of the plastic bag ban, 11 against, 1 neutral.

You can post your vote semi-anonymously (only your city of residence will be posted), but you will have to register your e-mail address, name and city of residence in order to have your vote counted.

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Posted by Namreh
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2009 at 11:22 am

Have you ever bought groceries in Austria, (and/or other countries?) You want a bag, plastic or paper? 10 cents are added to the total for each bag.

You recognize the tourists often by watching them shopping without bringing their own bags, or baskets, which are also very handy. Granted, there are also "americanized" stores, but exceptions prove the rule.

Just let the grocery shops reduce their bag-hassle by changing to paper, and charging a noticeable amount, and the changeover to reusable bags will progress automatically.

Money speaks, even in small amounts.

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Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 16, 2009 at 11:28 am

If plastic bags are banned I will buy them in bulk and continue to use them as usual. All my plastic bags are recycled or reused for garbage and dog poop. Paper bags are unacceptable for wet waste.

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Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 16, 2009 at 11:55 am

Our city council has gotten out of control in the land of green - we all have a lot less of it to spend and our city has so many more pressing things to deal with. Charging a dime or more per bag, rather then banning plastic (and yes, that will mean people will use more paper bags, kind of a duh) would significantly reduce the use of disposable bags.

On the subject of newspapers in bags, if they are not, what happens when it rains, when the sprinkler run off from your neighbors lands on it... Will our newspaper delivery people need to get out of the car and deliver to our front porches? Newspapers are already struggling financially.

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Posted by G
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 16, 2009 at 1:05 pm

well, that sucks, I use those as garbage bags. Now I suppose I will have to start buying plastic garbage bags. Also, when I walk to get groceries, I don't want a big bulky bag. I'd rather have the incentive to use reusables (as a charge to use plastic OR paper) and use the reusables for most of my shopping, while still having the option to get plastic when I need it.

I am against this ban. I don't think making people always use paper bags is helping the environment.

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Posted by G
a resident of Ventura
on Mar 16, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Also, why did we not get an article telling us we can vote on this in an open online forum or get this article when the deadline to act on anything is basically run out?? I just saw one of the posts here mentioning it, posted only one hour before the deadline, and now it's too late for me to vote.

I resent not being given this information until the last possible moment. Why is this online periodical not giving us information in a timely manner? What's the point of news if it's not giving us information that we have the ability to act on.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 16, 2009 at 2:15 pm

I live in Palo Alto right on the border with Mountain View so I do most of my grocery shopping at Safeway in Mountain View. I have met my neighbors in that store so I know they also shop in Mountain View. What is the incentive to shop in Palo Alto when they not only take plastic bags away but the prices are higher.

So long as PA grocery stores are so small and do not have the selection of those in Mountain View and Menlo Park more PA residents will do as I do shop in the next door town. Banning plastic bags is just another nail in the coffin of retail in Palo Alto.

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Posted by Marge
a resident of Stanford
on Mar 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

We can also shop in towns that don't ban plastic bags.

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Posted by rem
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm

I will not shop at a place that does not use plastic bags. I have known to leave items on the count when a place tell me that are "adding" a surcharge to my bill.

I do recycle my plastic, Like somebody said they are great for dog poop. They are great as garage bags for long car trips. They are many uses around the house because they REPEL water or any liquid...

It would be great if the City Council and all the other “Councils” and “Work Shops” learned a new word – NO or new phase – DISAPPROVED….

There is no sane reason for this PROBLEM except MONEY, MONEY, MONEY and not caring about the people of Palo Alto or ANY of the other communities....

Has any one noticed the the stores are changing for cloth bags. 2 to 5 dollars and up for each.....

I have seen contains for RECYCLING in other states outside of stores or just inside the store's door.. IT would be great if this State could use Common sense....

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Posted by Clear Perspective
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2009 at 2:48 pm

For facts and links to the studies about plastic bags and the environment that started it all, as well as environmental shopping strategies and a survey of plastic bag knowledge...please visit

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Posted by Jan Curtis
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 16, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Newspapers: no plastic bags, what happens when it rains? NOT a good idea to ban them entirely.

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Posted by Barry
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2009 at 3:47 pm

It always fascinates me to see people proudly bringing their own bags for groceries and then buying an apple in a plastic bag, an onion in a plastic bag, a potato in a plastic bag and so on. A person may use a paper bag to carry their groceries and have half a dozen plastic bags inside for individual produce. Enforcing the use of paper bags without offering the option of smaller paper bags in the produce area makes no sense to me at all.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2009 at 3:51 pm

Has anyone thought to ask the stores what the bring your own bag campaign has done to their overall consumption of plastic and paper bags.

I for one have become used to carrying my own reusable bags with me practically all the time, but it is nice still to have the option of plastic bags for when I buy certain items (meat juices leaking from the container) or when I drive the other car, or my kids buy me some bread on the way home from school. I get the impression that most other customers in the stores are doing the same.

Therefore, I would suggest that the idea of banning bags may be unnecessary as it would only raise more angst in Palo Alto. Leave the bring your own bag campaign to fulfill the discretionary needs.

Additionally, since Santa Clara County is considering something similar, it may happen anyway without our City Council wasting time on this.

I would rather the Council get down to business with the real issues in Palo Alto.

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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 16, 2009 at 4:01 pm

"I would rather the Council get down to business with the real issues in Palo Alto."

Be careful what you ask for...

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 16, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Isn't there a city council election in November. Drekemer and Barton up for re-election? I can't wait. And I do hope some sensible, sane candidates appear on the horizon - soon. Those with business and management sense. And if staff threatens to strike because the don't get bonuses and enormous raises, then let them. They can join the unemployment line. They will have a lot of company.

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Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2009 at 5:30 am

No wonder people laugh at Palo Altans. This is just another prime example of the ridiculous. Remember a few years back when meetings were supposed to be "civil"? That article made the New York Times and friends and relatives were asking me about it (and snickering). As others have mentioned, spend time on worthy issues!!!

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Posted by anon.
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 17, 2009 at 6:29 am

Not using plastic bags is NO BIG DEAL. I went to Budapest last Fall, everyone there brings their own container - backpack, box, reusable bag etc. Think back to when there were no plastic bags, not that long ago. My mom said that all the kitchen waste went into the compost heap and the garbage was dumped directly into the kitchen garbage pail. Then the pail was dumped into the garbage can outside. All you have to do is rinse the kitchen pail once a week. When buying veggies at the store, they were placed into small paper bags, not plastic. For those people who say plastic bags are reused for dog waste, garbage liners. Think about tie up the garbage in plastic, it stays in the plastic for years and years. If you put it in a paper bag, it will degrade in a few months. I suggest we all be a little less lazy and care about the environment a lot more.

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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 17, 2009 at 7:54 am

Looks like the Council went ahead and voted in the plastic bag ban. Of note, as reported in today's Daily Post, a judge invalidated a similar ban in Manhattan Beach because an environmental impact report was not done.
Surprising that in Palo Alto, which requires an EIR for almost everything except crossing the street, the Council could not be bothered to get one. I guess when you are in a hurry to fatten up your resume and show off your "environmental" credentials, there is no time for EIRs.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2009 at 8:44 am

Next fall is also the elections,
it is time to end the tenure of dysfunctional council members who represent their own narrow preoccupations not the interests of the majority of Palo Altans.

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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2009 at 10:30 am

Re "the truth about plastic bags" at

The site is copyrighted by Hilex Poly, LLC., a manufacturer of plastic bags and film products.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2009 at 11:49 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

No problem - just remind your cook to have the chauffeur remember the reusable totes. The little people will cope.

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Posted by Julie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 17, 2009 at 1:26 pm

I, also, think that the City Council is venturing into unknown territory. I believe that most people in Palo Alto will bring their own bags. If this ends up being taken to court and we lose, let's make sure that all the City Council people who voted for it will pay for the settlement, if the city loses, out of their own pocket.


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Posted by Carol T.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 17, 2009 at 1:51 pm

For a look at the impact plastic bags make on our environment, it's worth taking a close look at a slideshow on the following website. Quotes are made by highly respected, reliable sources.

Web Link

This is a matter that needs to be taken seriously in our efforts to help the planet.

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Posted by JB
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 17, 2009 at 4:35 pm

To the people worried about what to do with their doggie excrement without plastic bags, or how their newspaper might stay dry, I would like to remind you that waxed paper works just as well as plastic and waxed paper sandwich bags are available in the supermarkets for the doggy doodoo. A newspaper could be rolled in a sheet of waxed paper and held with a rubber band (which they use now) and would stay dry enough. In a torrential downpour, my newspaper gets wet even in plastic bags...

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Posted by AnnasMom
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 18, 2009 at 10:50 am

(Sorry this is long. I hope you find it worth reading.)

I was almost convinced by the angry "anti" letters at the beginning of these posts, until I read anon's sensible and thoughtful solutions to the problems with abandoning plastic bags. Stimulated by the discussion, I've had some further thoughts on the matter:

As for "wet garbage," it can be radically reduced. If you're worried about odor in the garbage pail, many things can be rinsed (including the wax paper and paper containing meat juices) before they go in. One admirable friend of mine uses rinsed-out milk cartons to hold smaller amounts of messy things or things that must be trashed. Many things can be composted at home, but I would say that the city could make the ban more credible if they were to expand the compost program to include fruit and vegetable waste, as well as paper products that have been used for storing or packaging these items. Many people don't have the capability, for one reason or another, to do their own composting, but would be willing to have a little composting pail and dump it in a (perhaps separate) compost bin.

As for dog poop, there are solutions to this problem, too. Though I am sympathetic to how hard it can be, people do need to do the work to change their practices. As someone pointed out, wax paper works, though it can be difficult to pick up the wetter poops that sometimes emerge from our pets since wax paper isn't as flexible as plastic. Another wild idea is to rig up a hard-bodied, sealable container so that it's easy to carry (like a shoulder bag) with a small scoop that can be stored inside. As bacterial-laden waste, dog poops *should* be disposed of in the toilet anyway, and the container can be quickly rinsed out with hot water and soap, maybe using a dedicated brush similar in function and storage to a toilet bowl brush. There are also backyard poop composters available over the internet. If you must throw away, I suppose you could dump the wax paper into your milk carton or some such receptacle. You'll still need to rinse out your garbage can from time to time if you don't want to asphyxiate your neighbors.

With regard to the question of the ban's effectiveness and the specter of paper bag usage increasing, I think the City Council, like most governmental bodies, needs to use a much more comprehensive approach to stimulating and enforcing change. Plastic should be more broadly banned or fairly onerous fees instituted. Comparable fees should be instituted on paper bags used for shopping purposes. Tax breaks could also be used for a limited time at the beginning of the plastic ban to reward stores for selling reusable shopping bags or baskets at a substantial discount or giving them away for free. Fees on purchased plastic products could be levied, giving companies and people generally incentives to find alternatives. New products solving the waste problem will emerge; tax breaks could be used for at least some period of time for businesses that bring in these solutions. We also should work with surrounding communities so it's harder for people to get their plastic fix in other towns. At the least, plastic can be abandoned for newspapers thrown on the many non-rain days and used when rain is expected.

In addition, people need to be *severely* fined for dumping plastic at outdoor gathering places (beaches, parks, the baylands, etc.). It's hard to believe how much stuff you find out there. Many more plastic recycling or waste receptacles need to be put in place in such places. And all kinds of educational initiatives should be carried out. Perhaps paloaltoonline could create a forum for sharing waste reduction ideas, with an automatic cc to the city council and mayor. Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and other civic organizations could be enlisted in posting attractive, well designed posters in every shop window offering alternative ideas for dealing with waste and shopping "transport". Etc.

As we can see in the case of greenhouse gases, voluntary compliance might be an option if we hadn't waited far too long to begin addressing these problems. But I for one don't want to wait until we find ourselves in such severe circumstances that the majority of people are *finally* willing to change. If we spent as much energy working out solutions as we do complaining about change, we'd be there already.

By the way, Piazzas (perhaps other groceries) still use plastic bags at point of purchase for all sorts of things -- stuff from the deli, ice cream, meats, etc.

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Posted by Marvin
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 18, 2009 at 11:17 am

I though that the Santa Clara county commissioners were working on a county wide plastic bag ban--so that would make PA's efforts unnecessary.
As I stated before, I think this is a feel good piece of legislation, that was not properly studied or thought out, so that certain council members can go around saying they are doing stiff or our "environment".
As the above poster points out--you can still get plastic bags for fruit, meat etc.
Anyway, I am hoping this will be overturned by the courts anyway. Clearly our council has no idea how to do things properly (look at their fiscal policies)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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