Bag ban poses enforcement questions

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The state’s single use plastic bag ban is being implemented locally but Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors has been advised that a key aspect is still undetermined – the ban’s enforcement.

The implementation and enforcement of Proposition 67, the state’s ban on single use bags, was updated for supervisors at their Jan. 17 meeting.

Approved by a narrow margin last November, Proposition 67 prohibits grocery stores, convenience stores, retail outlets and other businesses from providing free single use plastic bags to customers.

Instead, they’re required to charge at least 10 cents each for paper bags or reusable plastic bags made of thicker and more durable material.

Thin plastic bags for produce or bulk goods are still allowed.

Assistant County Administrative Officer Cheryl Dillingham said the voter-approved law went into effect the day after the election, surprising many people, including herself. She added that while implementation has been quick, the responsibility for enforcing the law remains unsettled.

“People are still sorting out what enforcement looks like,” said Dillingham. She said that in the law, “There’s an implication that the (local) district attorney and the (state’s) attorney general are the enforcement offices.”

Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming “reached out” to the state’s District Attorney Task Force and “their opinion is that CalRecycle should be the enforcement agent,” Dillingham said, referring to the state’s waste reduction agency.

But she added that CalRecycle’s website “specifically says that they are not the enforcement agent” and “this still remains to be worked out.”

Supervisor Virgina Bass noted that there are local stores that are violating the law by continuing to provide single use bags.

“As soon as the law was passed, we started to get shoppers contacting us to ‘tattle’ on stores,” said Maggie Gainer of Zero Waste Humboldt. “And it’s like, ‘You’re the shopper – you’ve got the dollar in your hand.”

Gainer said customers can influence compliance by asking when a store in violation will make the switch to reusable plastic bags.

Supervisor Rex Bohn said it’s not surprising that some stores still have plastic bags on hand, since they order them in bulk and want to clear their inventories before making the switch to reusable bags.

“They find it redundant to throw 12,000 plastic bags in the trash when the idea is we’re trying to get 12,000 bags out of the trash,” he continued. “So I don’t think they’re doing anything dishonest and for some of the small volume stores, they buy their bags twice a year.”

Bohn added that the level of local compliance is satisfactory. “We’re legislating people’s habits, which I really love, but I think we can depend on our business community to follow the law,” he said.

Gainer had told supervisors that the new law’s intent is to change shoppers’ behavior by charging them for bags. Doing that encourages them to either re-use the bags they’ve bought or to bring their own bags to the store.

Dillingham said the law requires revenue from the bag sales to go to implementation of the program or educational outreach on waste reduction. She said that locally, Zero Waste Humboldt is advancing an education campaign.



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