GreenTown Los Altos

Banning Plastic Bags – A Win for Small Towns


Aug 2011


There has been a significant development this month in the ongoing effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags.

The city of Manhattan Beach (near Los Angeles) enacted a ban on plastic bags in July 2008, but a group called Save the Bag Coalition filed suit to overturn the ban until a lengthy Environmental Impact Report (EIR) could be done. Manhattan Beach had determined that an EIR was not required to enact the ordinance and had prepared a Negative Declaration supporting their decision. In a unanimous decision handed down this month, The California Supreme Court sided with Manhattan Beach in finding that an EIR was not required and that the city had “acted within its discretion when it determined that its ban on plastic bags would have no significant effect on the environment.” Learn more.

This is really good news for smaller municipalities that may wish to enact single–use plastic bag bans to address plastic pollution in our waterways, knowing that expensive and time-consuming EIRs will not be required. Closer-to-home examples include:

  • Palo Alto enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags in March 2009, only to be sued by a trade organization representing the plastic bag industry. They settled out of court to save the expense of a trial, leaving the original ordinance in effect for the seven largest grocery stores in Palo Alto, but required the City to perform an EIR before extending the ban.
  • San Francisco has already banned single-use plastic bags.
  • San Jose has adopted plastic bag bans, effective January 1, 2012.
  • Santa Clara County has adopted a ban on plastic bags for the unincorporated areas of the county, also to take effect on January 1, 2012.

We hope this is just the start of an irreversible trend and we will see other communities, especially in the Bay Area, eliminate the use of plastic bags to address the significant issue of plastic pollution in the Bay and the Pacific Ocean.

Our GreenTown Los Altos Co-op is also focused on reducing plastic pollution, focusing initially on reducing the use of Styrofoam food containers by offering attractively priced compostable container alternatives to restaurants and schools. In cooperation with our partner, World Centric of Palo Alto, we have been calling on the Los Altos restaurant community over the past year to entice these restaurants to discontinue the use of Styrofoam containers. In April we worked with the high school Green Teams to introduce compostable lunch trays on a trial basis as a replacement for Styrofoam trays, and are now working with them to make this a permanent change. The early adopters of compostable take-out containers include Sumika, Brian’s Restaurant, Chef Chu, and Tom’s Depot. As you patronize your favorite Los Altos restaurants, we encourage you to ask the owners to eliminate Styrofoam containers.

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