Fremont city leaders have decided to join a countywide effort to ban plastic grocery bags rather than sprinting ahead with a ban of their own.

Environmental groups had hoped the city would follow Los Angeles County's lead and quickly enact a law banning plastic grocery bags and charging fees for paper bags.

But the City Council and city officials feared that would leave Fremont vulnerable to a costly lawsuit from the plastic bag industry, which stopped implementation of a similar law in Oakland and is considering challenging the Los Angeles law.

Council members on Tuesday, however, unanimously reiterated their intention to pass a law banning plastic grocery bags in January 2012, after the county completes an environmental study on the issue.

Fremont has begun taking stronger environmental positions, and earlier this year passed an ordinance that will prevent food vendors from using plastic-foam containers effective Jan. 1.

Councilman Bob Wieckowski, who has spearheaded both efforts and is vacating his council seat next month to join the state Assembly, said he was satisfied that Fremont was heading toward a plastic bag ban.

Environmentalists are pushing to outlaw plastic grocery bags, which take hundreds of years to decompose and often end up clogging landfills or polluting rivers and streams.

Dozens of countries have begun banning or charging for plastic bags, including China.

Before Tuesday's council meeting, Save The Bay urged Fremont council members to move forward with a ban.


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"(We don't) want to see the city of Fremont step back and abandon this important Bay issue simply because the county waste management agency -- StopWaste.org -- has said it will pursue it," the group wrote.

However, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce has said it would support only a regional ban.

Unlike Oakland, Los Angeles officials performed an in-depth environmental study before passing the plastic bag ban, which could help it withstand a legal challenge from the plastics industry.

San Jose also completed an environmental study and is scheduled to consider a law next month to ban plastic grocery bags and charge fees for paper bags.

Alameda County's Stopwaste.org is scheduled to begin preparing a similar report early next year that could result in model ordinances for cities to adopt by the end of 2011.

The ordinance likely would affect many retailers, including supermarkets, but would not apply to plastic produce bags found in supermarkets, plastic takeout food bags or plastic newspaper delivery bags, officials said.

By waiting for the county to act, Fremont wouldn't have to pay for its own environmental study -- an expense that could exceed $100,000 -- or risk being the sole target of a lawsuit by the plastics industry, officials said.

Still, council members were eager for a ban.

Assuming the city wants to give supermarkets and other retailers time to adjust to the new law, plastic grocery bags could be banned or come with a fee sometime in mid-2012, Fremont Environmental Services Manager Kathy Cote said before the meeting.