Since it began in January, 2013, the reusable bag ordinance has had dramatic results. In Alameda County, overall bag purchases by affected retail stores have declined by 85 percent. The number of shoppers bringing a reusable bag to affected stores, or not using a bag at all, has more than doubled during this time.
The ordinance, adopted in 2012 by the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, also known as StopWaste, went into effect January 1, 2013, and affects 1,300 stores countywide. The ordinance prohibits the distribution of single-use bags at most retailers selling packaged food, and places a $0.10 per bag minimum charge on recycled-content paper or reusable bags. Alameda County is the most populous county in California to have a reusable bag ordinance.
“It’s fantastic to go grocery shopping and see everyone with their reusable bags,” stated Authority Board President Jennifer West. “I think we can all appreciate fewer plastic bags flying around in the street.”
Store owners have noticed the changes first-hand. “People used to ask for two bags, now they don’t even want one,” said Rubin Dhillon, a manager at a Union City 7-Eleven. Conchita Hung of a Valero station in Dublin added, “I’ve been the owner for over 20 years – it’s been a big change. It’s changed people’s habits because they don’t want to pay 10 cents.” Other store owners reported their bag purchases going down between 50 and 90 percent.
The ordinance was influenced by tough new requirements for cities to reduce the amount of trash entering waterways. In 2007, the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board declared five waterways in Alameda County – Strawberry Creek and Codornices Creek in Berkeley, Sausal Creek and Damon Slough in Oakland, and San Leandro Creek in San Leandro – so polluted with trash that they violated the federal Clean Water Act.
Despite several years of voluntary efforts to promote reusable bags countywide, plastic bags were still consistently collected in large numbers by volunteers in Alameda County on Coastal Cleanup day.
San Francisco and San Jose have seen similar decreases in plastic and paper bag distribution and cleaner waterways as a result of their bag ordinances.