Last Tuesday marked a victory for local environmentalists, as the City Council of Santa Barbara voted 6–0 to issue a ban on plastic bags in convenience stores located throughout the city.
The process of passing the plastic bag ordinance at the Santa Barbara City Council took nearly six years to come to fruition, and the ordinance is expected to go into effect in a few months.
Kathi King, member of the Community Environmental Council, advocates the new ban and other efforts to reduce plastic bag usage. She said the ban would first go into effect in larger, corporate stores before expanding to smaller businesses.
Since the first reading of the new ordinance was performed last Tuesday, King said the new policy plan will undergo other reviews before local lawmakers implement it, “Sometime within the next few weeks, a second reading will occur.” she said.
According to King, six months after the second reading, plastic bags in grocery stores that are larger than 10,000 square feet will be completely banned. A year after that initial ban, bags at smaller stores will also be banned.
One part of the new ordinance also states that stores must impose a 10 cent fee on any paper bag they issue to customers, and King said the fee will encourage customers to invest in other more environmentally friendly bags.
“Part of the reason the fee exists is to discourage customers from using disposable bags, so that they start using their own reusable bags,” King said.
Currently, the ordinance only applies to the City of Santa Barbara, but Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider said she hopes to pass a regional ordinance of similar proportions in the near future. Mayor Schneider said the unanimous vote to pass the ordinance was unexpected, after years of struggling to pass the controversial policy.
“At one point, we didn’t have a majority of City Council on board,” Schneider said.
Schneider said the election of City Council Member Cathy Murillo in 2011 shifted the tide of City Council opinion on the issue, as Murillo replaced an opponent of the ordinance the council was then in favor of it by 4–3. With a history of struggling to pass the bag ban, Schneider said it was “quite a surprise” when it passed unanimously.
While there have been many proponents of the new measure, there is still major opposition stemming from a number of local residents and groups, such as the “Save the Plastic Bag” coalition.
At the City Council hearing last Tuesday, Steven Joseph, attorney for the “Save the Plastic Bag” coalition, argued many major grocery stores do not offer high density polyethylene and low density polyethylene bags after plastic bag bans have gone into effect. Joseph said these stores continue to use high volumes of paper bags, which still impacts the environment.
Apart from potential concerns with the ban at major grocery stores, Ranjit Thiara, manager of the Isla Vista 7-11, said the ban would negatively affect convenience stores as well.
“My family owns five 7-11 stores in the Los Angeles area, where plastic bag bans have already gone into effect,” Thiara said. “Yes, it’s good for the environment. But for us, it just makes things more inefficient and complicated.”
Despite such concerns, UCSB campus reactions to the plastic bag ban have been largely positive. Rob Holland, a second-year economics major and member of the student advocacy group CALPIRG, said he was excited about the ordinance’s recent passage, calling it a “big win for environmentalists all around.”
According to Holland, the new ordinance will leave a positive effect on the UCSB campus by helping preserve the natural environment that surrounds it.
“This ban is especially important for students at UCSB because it helps maintain the health of our environment and ensures that students can continue to enjoy the beauty of our city, ocean and mountains,” Holland said.