ALBANY -- Alameda County's ban on single-use plastic bags was a long time coming and was enacted, said Albany Councilwoman Joanne Wile, because of the negative effects the bags have on the environment, especially in the water.
"It started by looking at the effect on the environment, on streams, on sea life, the number of deaths that have occurred because sea animals that have ingested plastic bags," she said. "It seemed like something we could manageably do, and other counties have done it."
The ban on plastic bags took effect Tuesday. The ordinance bans single-use plastic bags at large grocery stores and stores that sell food. It also requires stores to charge shoppers at least 10 cents to use a paper bag. The law was passed through the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, which includes 14 cities and unincorporated parts of the county. Each city had to vote to agree to the ban, according to Allison Chan, policy associate at Save the Bay, which advocated for the ban.
"When they were considering this ordinance, they were receiving feedback from every single city," Chan said. "They needed to take a vote. The ordinance was structured in a way that it would apply automatically to all of the Alameda County jurisdictions unless they opted out. Nobody opted out."
San Jose and San Francisco each has had a plastic bag ban in place for several years. Chan said Save the Bay has been working on a ban in Alameda County for about a year and a half.
Ellen Graves, president of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, said the subject of the bag ban hasn't come up at the business group's meetings.
"We don't have a position on it," she said. "As a business owner, I've always used paper bags, so it's not affecting me. I've been letting my customers know it's only the larger businesses as I understand, not the smaller businesses. I think the biggest thing for us is the Safeway and the Target. Those are the businesses that will be impacted in Albany. I know the Target has had signs up for months."
Added Wile, "I think a lot of businesses have been offering canvas bags already and trying to get people to change their habits."
The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group representing plastic bag manufacturers, released a statement from its chairman, Mark Daniels, critical of the ban.
"Alameda's plastic bag ban and paper bag tax will not only hurt consumers' pockets but also push them toward less sustainable alternatives," Daniels said. "Paper bags are a worse environmental option at checkout -- using a large amount of water and emitting more greenhouse gases than plastic bags, and reusable bags cannot be recycled and are predominately imported from China."
Daniels also contended that reusable bags are less hygienic, linking their use to a norovirus outbreak involving a youth soccer team. He concluded that solutions to environmental problems should include "increasing recycling programs that address all forms of plastic bags, sacks and wraps -- building on a decade of progress in recycling."
Chan said Save the Bay has heard from many consumers wondering what they should use instead.
"What we really encourage people to do is start bringing your own bags," she said. "We're really excited that plastic is going away. But we aren't interested in promoting another single-use bag instead of plastic. What we want to promote is reusable bags."
As for the question of whether plastic bags for meat or produce are banned, they are not.
Chan said that although she would like to see the ban expanded eventually, the main point is to stop allowing plastic bags to effect the environment.
"It has a serious impact on the Bay," she said. "Save the Bay estimates that over one million plastic bags enter the Bay each year. This stuff needs to be eliminated so it doesn't keep impacting our wildlife and our Bay resources."