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Petaluma receptive to plastic-bag ban

Petaluma's City Council expressed support this week for a possible countywide ordinance regulating disposable carry-out bags, both plastic and paper, to reduce waste, pollution and environmental damage.

Representatives from the county waste management agency are seeking feedback from all Sonoma County cities to determine whether a unified county ordinance would gain support. The agency would fund an analysis of the proposal and defend any legal challenges if all county agencies unanimously support it.

Mendocino County supervisors voted in April to start an environmental impact report in a move toward banning plastic carry-out bags. Marin County, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica and Los Angeles County already have plastic bag prohibitions and impose small fees on paper bags.

The fees are intended to encourage consumers to use reusable shopping bags because of the environmental toll plastic and paper bags take on the environment.

Some retailers are preempting the trend, including Wal-Mart, which has discontinued the use of disposable bags at several stores, including the one in Ukiah.

County waste agency representatives told the Petaluma council that a unified county ordinance could be written in several ways, but likely would include a ban on plastic bags given by merchants and a fee on paper bags.

They said bans on plastic only have given rise to legal challenges.

The plastics industry opposes bans and has sued in several jurisdictions. Preparing environmental impact reports, rather than less formal analyses by government agencies, is an effort to ward off such challenges.

A possible county ordinance likely would include just grocery stores, but other jurisdictions have included retail outlets and restaurants. Merchants' comments would be included in the drafting of any ordinance.

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency hopes to have enough feedback from cities within the county to take a straw poll on Aug. 17 to determine how to move forward.

The environmental analysis would be funded from the agency's reserves, representatives told Petaluma council members.


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