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June 20-26, 2007

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By Patricia Lynn Henley


It's in the bag

Having a supermarket employee politely inquire "Paper or plastic?" could become a phrase of the past thanks to a worldwide movement to ban plastic bags. The trend has already made inroads into the North Bay. Fairfax town manager Linda Kelly is notifying local businesses about a potential ban on the previously ubiquitous plastic bags. "It affects all our restaurants, any takeout food place and all retail establishments," Kelly explains. The first reading of the proposed ordinance was June 6, with the council voting 5-0 in favor of the ban. A second reading will be July 10; if approved, the ban starts Feb. 10. So far, Kelly says, there's been no opposition.

"The big push is to encourage people to bring their own reusable canvas bags to stores," she explains. According to the ordinance, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually worldwide--over 1 million bags a minute--and more than 19 billion disposable bags are dispensed in California each year, creating 147,000 tons of waste. The "findings" section of the ordinance asserts that "because plastic does not biodegrade, every piece of plastic that has found its way from California shores to the Pacific Ocean for the last 50 years still remains in the ocean or has been accumulating in the central Pacific gyre and a 'Pacific garbage patch' now exists made up of floating plastic and styrofoam debris. The remaining plastic is deposited on local or distant shores."

In March, San Francisco supervisors approved a plastic-bag ban, and the county of Marin OK'd a campaign to convince consumers and businesses to voluntarily stop using plastic bags; a Marin ban could follow. Sonoma County officials are working to implement a new state law requiring easier recycling of plastic bags. So far, there appears to be no official move toward restricting them in Napa County.

Elsewhere, in April the tiny town of Leaf Rapids in northwestern Manitoba became the first Canadian municipality to ban plastic bags, with a $1,000-a-day fine for not complying. The town's 550-some residents were given cloth shopping bags before the ban went into effect. Phoenix and Los Angeles are studying plastic-bag bans, which are already prohibited in Bangladesh. A Paris ban starts this year, followed by a nationwide ban in France in 2010. Either mandatory or voluntary programs to reduce the number of plastic bags have been in place for several years in South Africa, Ireland, Kenya and Australia.


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