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Supervisors to Discuss Plastic Bag Ban

A special meeting is scheduled Tuesday to receive comments from the public.

San Mateo County residents will have the opportunity Tuesday to weigh in on whether the county Board of Supervisors should move forward with banning the use of plastic bags in unincorporated areas of the county.

The public is invited to provide input to the board on the topic during a discussion Tuesday, beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the board chambers located at 400 County Center in Redwood City.

The impetus for considering the ban is to prohibit the use of single use plastic bags, which are widely regarded as environmental hazards because they are not biodegradable, according to a county report from the office of County Manager David Boesch.

The county is targeting handled plastic bags commonly handed out at the cash registers of convenience stores and markets as the primary focus of the ban.

Since state law prohibits the county from imposing a fee on the use of plastic bags, the other available option to curb the distribution of the undesirable bags is to ban them outright, said the report.

But the county is not the only jurisdiction considering such a measure. There ARE ongoing efforts to consider banning plastic bags in local cities such as San Carlos and Belmont.

As well, Santa Clara County passed a plastic bag ban earlier this year. Cities within the county, such as San Jose and Palo Alto, have also implemented similar bans.

The movement to consider banning bags has been aided by a state Supreme Court ruling that allows cities to ban plastic bags without first being forced to complete an environmental impact report on the decision.

According to County Chief Deputy Counsel Paul Okada, the Board of Supervisors only has legal jurisdiction over the county's unincorporated areas. Action by the board, such as a plastic bag ban, is not enforceable within the boundaries of the cities that have their own legislative bodies.

If the ban is eventually imposed, some industries may be exempt from the restriction on plastic bags.

One such exception may be granted to food businesses or restaurants, because plastic bags are effective in preventing cross contamination, according to the report.

Some non-profit industries have been granted exemptions in other jurisdictions where a bag ban has been imposed, said the report.

Part of the discussion leading up to a potential ban would be identifying which county department would be responsible for enforcing violations, as well as what kind of resources the county has available to process and penalize such infractions.

The complex nature of considering such a ban is part of the reason why the county elected to hold a special meeting on the topic.

"The development of an ordinance to address the distribution and use of single-use carryout bags will involve analysis of a myriad of issues," said the county's report.

"Input from community members will be helpful in assessing the potential impact of such issues and factors as the Board considers such measures."

The hope of moving forward with the ban would give way to a rise in people's utilization of reusable bags such as those made from fabric, paper or other recycled material, said the report.

No action is intended to be taken at the special meeting. The board will also meet Tuesday morning for its regularly scheduled meeting. To see the agenda, click here.

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