Santa Barbara’s City Council Ordinance Committee recommended that the city continue to allow disposable shopping bags in the area despite concern from local conservationists about detrimental environmental effects.
The committee’s Tuesday decision will be passed to the General Council for review. Should their decision carry over, the City Council will continue to support the “Where’s Your Bag?” program, a partnership with area nonprofit Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and local grocery stores to replace disposable paper or plastic bags with reusable ones. The recommendation was the first of four options presented to the committee regarding area shopping bag use.
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Executive Director Kira Redmond said option one was harmful to the local ecology.
“Channelkeeper is very disappointed with the Ordinance Committee decision yesterday,” Redmond said. “Basically they’re doing nothing to address a very serious environmental problem.”
The four options discussed on Tuesday ranged from no change to increasingly stricter policies for the use of disposable shopping bags in the city of Santa Barbara. Option two would mandate that every area grocery store post notices about the availability of reusable bags and provide specific training so employees could encourage customers to purchase these bags.
Rick Crandall, the Southern California Division director of Environmental Stewardship for Albertsons’ parent company Supervalu, said efforts to increase the use of reusable bags have been largely ineffective.
“We have piloted and tested several incentive programs over the past decade and found that most incentives do not change the culture of consumer behavior,” Crandall said in an e-mail.
Two Albertsons locations on the central coast recently went completely bagless for an experiment. Crandall said there are no current plans to expand the policy, but Supervalu is receptive to the idea if the pilot program is successful. If enacted by the city council, the third option would start a ballot measure to tax single-use disposable bags.
According to Redmond, Channelkeeper supports the fourth option — which would ban disposable plastic bags altogether and charge a fee for single-use paper bags — because it may set a standard for local governments.
“Neighboring cities have all said they are waiting to see what Santa Barbara does,” Redmond said. “We’re setting a poor example for other neighboring cities that are looking to us for leadership.”
However, Ordinance Committee member Frank Hotchkiss said plastic bags are not a large part of the city’s waste stream and may even be used to produce electricity in the future.
“I don’t think there is an ecological problem, that is the first thing,” Hotchkiss said.
Reusable bags — unlike disposable bags — often contain high levels of bacteria from repeated use, Hotchkiss said. Hotchkiss said the choice about how to carry products out of the market should be left up to the consumer.
“The two sides are locked into separate views,” Hotchkiss said. “Because they represent two very strong and separate views, it seems to me to be best to leave it up to the individual to decide what is best for them and the environment.”
Modern customers may not choose costlier reusable bags, Crandall said, and instead take the cheaper, less environmentally friendly path.
“In the ideal world it would be great to allow the customer to make the right choice and change to a bagless society,” Crandall said. “But … in the last decade our customers have become time-starved and often make the choices of least resistance and so the reusable bag is not an easy decision.”