By Wes Sims
Grocery shopping in unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County has changed since late March, when a ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect. Customers of the Aptos Safeway store are now expected to bring their own bags or pay 10-cents apiece for paper bags … a price that will go up in the future, until shoppers get the message that plastic, and to a lesser degree, paper, can be environmentally hazardous.
Santa Cruz County Supervisor Ellen Pirie represents a large mid-county district that stretches from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the shores of Monterey Bay.
“Plastic bags often find their way into the ocean. Some of the fish eat them, they get caught up in things, they can really do a lot of damage,” Pirie Says.
Spearheading the effort to ban single-use plastic bags is Save Our Shore; a non-profit organization focused on keeping harmful products from reaching the ocean.
“Our goal at Save our Shores is to get every jurisdiction around our sanctuary to have bans on Styrofoam and plastic bags,” says Save Our Shores executive director Laura Kasa.
“Sanctuary” refers to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary … 276 miles of federally protected off-shore water stretching from Cambria to north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
San Francisco was one of the first cities to actually put forth a ban. And now they’re finding resistance from Stephen Joseph and the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, trying to fight them on that.”
San Francisco attorney Stephen Joseph represents a long list of plastics and packaging companies which oppose restrictions on plastic bags.
“We oppose plastic bag bans for a number of reasons. The primary reason is that the bag have been based on mis-information. And in fact the worst case that we have seen of mis-information is in Santa Cruz County, ” Joseph says. “For instance, the Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors say that the production of disposable plastic bags causes the deaths of thousands of marine mammals each year. That is not true. The London Times exposes as a myth. It is based upon a typographical error. The report on which it’s supposed to be based never mentioned plastic bags. It says that the mammals are being killed by discarded fishing nets.”
Lawsuits filed by Stephen Joseph are the reason that restaurants can still put “to-go” orders in Styrofoam containers and plastic bags in Santa Cruz County. Joseph promised to drop his challenge to the plastic bag ban, as long as the county agreed to exempt restaurants.
“So what the county decided to do was say, ok, we’ll take the restaurant piece out. We’ll separate it out. And then we’re going to go back and add the restaurants in later, so that if he wants to sue us, it’ll just be on that restaurant piece. ” Kasa says
Environmentalist, Dan Haifley headed-up Save Our Shores back in the 1990’s. He says it’s a matter of getting back to things that are re-usable, and not harmful to the environment.
“Thirty, forty years ago we all used re-usable bags to go shopping with. You go back even a hundred years. People carried a basket to carry their items in. And we can go back to doing that and there can be an industry in this and it can create jobs,” Haifley says.
Meanwhile, back at the Aptos Safeway. A checker offers a customer assistance carrying groceries to her car.
“We don’t charge for that,” she says.
The customer replies, “You’re not charging for that? Thank god!”