Guest Opinion: Bag Ban Should Take a Balanced Approach

A familiar quote states that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

This oft-used quote applies to most things, including banning single-use plastic carry-out bags.

The city of South Lake Tahoe is considering an ordinance that would only ban single-use plastic bags, in the hope consumers shift to an environmentally friendly reusable carry-out bag.

In theory this ordinance may appear sound, and the council should be applauded for their effort, but history has proved otherwise.

In 2007, San Francisco made worldwide headlines when it became the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags. Without regulating paper bag use, consumers simply shifted from plastic to significantly more expensive paper bags. The result was increased costs to retailers due to the higher price of paper bags, with no environmental gain.

In comparison to reusable bags, single-use paper and plastic bags have environmental negatives. An ordinance that only regulates one single-use bag type not only harms the environment, but also harms business by significantly driving up operational costs.

Realizing the ineffectiveness of its initial legislation, San Francisco has since revised its carry-out bag ordinance to include a minimal charge on recyclable paper bags.

More than 80 municipalities have passed carry-out bag ordinances regulating paper and plastic bags, and another 40 are considering similar legislation, including the town of Truckee.

The overwhelming and proven formula for a successful carry-out bag ordinance, which maximizes environmental gain while minimizing impacts to business, bans single-use plastic bags and places a minimal charge on recyclable paper bags. Since passing a similar ordinance in 2010, Los Angeles County has seen single-use bag consumption reduced by more than 90 percent, proving most consumers choose reusable bags and few pay for paper bags.

As business partners with the community, we understand the need to be good environmental citizens. By adopting an ordinance modeled after the majority of California municipalities that bans single-use plastics bags and places a charge on recyclable paper bags strikes a fair balance between environmental gain and the business community affected by this new policy — and we strongly encourage this balanced approach.

— Mike and Kim Schouten are the owners and independent operators of Grocery Outlet in South Lake Tahoe. Ronald K. Fong is the president/CEO of California Grocers Association.

Reprinted from the Tahoe Daily Tribune (10/11/2013)