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Community Commentary: City made right call on bags

September 21, 2011|By Broc Coward

I applaud the city of Huntington Beach for joining scores of other Californian cities and counties that are exploring or have already banned plastic bags ("Plastic bag ban in works," Aug. 18).

They should be commended for helping to protect our public space, namely our beaches and waterways, which make our city such a great place to live and are the lifeblood of our community. This proposed ban is something the state Legislature has come close to passing on multiple occasions, only to be turned back by special interests such as the American Chemistry Council through a concerted lobbying effort involving millions of dollars.

The goal of this ordinance should be to motivate people to use reusable bags rather than plastic or paper. What's important to note about plastic bags and the reason for so many ordinances statewide is that while they account for less than 1% of the waste in landfills, they can make up as much as 25% of the litter found in public spaces such as parks, beaches, waterways, storm drains, etc. and cost cities approximately 17 cents per bag to clean up once they are in the litter stream. No other product can boast such an incredible disparity. I believe that is why the council chose to focus on T-shirt-style grocery bags rather than produce or meat department bags, dry cleaning bags or newspaper bags.

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Also important to note is the fact that we have been paying for plastic and paper bags all along in the form of embedded costs in products we buy — in fact, every product in the store has a fraction of the total cost included in its price. The cost can range from 3 cents to 20 cents per bag depending on the store — these are the costs inherent in providing a "product" at the checkout stand. This ordinance would require grocers to be up front about the charges. As for the prior embedded costs, I hope this ordinance and others in the region force grocers to back out these costs since they are motivated by the smallest margins of price difference in their sales. It should be noted that the state has prohibited the ability of cities to place a fee on plastic bags, but not paper.

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