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Menlo Park bans plastic bags at checkout

Original post made on Jan 23, 2013

Earth Day (April 22) will see the end of single-use plastic bags at the checkout counter in Menlo Park. The City Council voted 5-0 to join the county in enacting a new ordinance banning the use of plastic bags by retailers, but made a few modifications to the law.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013, 10:48 AM

Comments (18)

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Posted by marketer
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 23, 2013 at 12:18 pm

This really penalizes BelleHaven. Good work, staff and council.

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Posted by Srini
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Add Menlo Park to the lunacy and hypocracy. Now we can't get plastic bags for free, but we can go inside and buy them. Or, in many counties and communities, you can still get plastic and paper bags at checkout, but only if you pay another $.10. This was never about the environment, just a money grab. At least be honest about your motives. Personally, I have stockpiled, and will continue to do so, those so-called "single use bags", which I use to line the paper bags (also stockpiling) to throw in the garbage. They will be there alongside the plastic bags that everybody has to buy. Until then, I will do my shopping in every community that has not yet implemented this extortion, until there are none left to coerce.

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Posted by baggy
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 23, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Great lack of common sense. A fee of 25 cents per paper bag - paper bags which I believe are made from recycled paper products and which decompose and can be recycled. I guess I'll now be buying non-decomposing and non-recyclable plastic bags for my garbage.

Way to go city council and staff. Please let me know when you finallt get something right.

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Posted by Kathy S
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Good work MP! It's about time! Plastic bags are one of the worst environmental hazards, and the biggest one that local municipalities can combat.

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Posted by gina
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Jan 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm

this ban will not change anything. the die hards will just shell out ten cents per bag rather then bring their own. the only people the ban will hurt will be low income people who can't afford to shell out the money. I for one refuse to use reusable bags on account they can't be properly clean after each use. Studies have been done that show no matter how many times you wash reusable bags they will never be clean enough to carry groceries. Like I said before, as long as people are willing to shell out money paper bag use will continue to rise. People want to get sick using reusable bags they can knock themselves out. I for one refuse to go that route. Paper or nothing.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 23, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Srini -
Don't forget that you're already paying a direct cost for the plastic bags you get in stores: the annual cost to US retailers for plastic bags is estimated at $4 billion. When retailers give away free bags, their costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Even if you use recycled bags yourself, you're still paying for the bags others have been using.
The hidden costs are too numerous to mention but here are a few:
1)Producing plastic bags requires petroleum and energy, as does distributing them to warehouses and retailers.
2)Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags mistaken for food.
3) An estimated 8 billion pounds of plastic bags, wraps and sacks enter the waste stream every year in the US alone, putting an unnecessary burden on our diminishing landfill space and causing air pollution if incinerated.
4) In a landfill, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
Plastic bags are a relatively recent development in shopping, having come on the scene in only the past 15 years or so. Now that we recognize the full cost of this "improvement", we need to fix it, which is what the Council did to bring us into compliance with the San Mateo county ordinance.
This is progress to my mind.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 23, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Gina -
I've been using the same Trader Joe's paper bags for years without any ill effects. They're great because they have handles! I double bag them so they can take even a heavy load without tearing. I much prefer them to plastic bags, which don't hold as much, cut into my fingers, and make a mess in the trunk of the car.
What's the source of contamination that seems to concern you so much? You mention studies of that show recycled bags aren't safe. Can you share those studies with us?

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Posted by Jill
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 23, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Steve said it all so well. I'm happy that Menlo Park is doing the responsible thing. I'm proud of my town.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2013 at 8:42 am

those reusable bags are not such a great idea: Web Link

from the article:

"Researchers in Oregon investigating an outbreak of stomach flu among some young soccer players learned the virus can hitch a ride on those reusable plastic bags many of us have gotten accustomed to carrying to and from the store."

"Hold up, you say. A bag carrying a virus? Sounds a little strange, but what happens, as epidemiologists from the Oregon Public Health Division and Oregon Health & Science University report, is that virus particles from vomit and feces can actually fly through the air, land on things like bags, and then survive there for WEEKS. Their findings are out today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases."

"Still, this isn't the first time those reusable bags have been fingered as vehicles for germs. As we reported back in 2010, one study found that more than half of a batch of 84 reusable grocery bags contained some sort of coliform bacteria, including E. coli, though the health risks from those findings seemed minimal."

Another pointless feel good measure and hidden tax.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Menlo Voter -
It seems the bottom line from that study was: "the health risks from those findings seemed minimal."
This is especially true when you consider that most of the food that goes into a grocery bag is already boxed, bagged, wrapped, or canned so the food itself is never in contact with the recycled bag itself. Hence, recycled bags aren't a real health concern, though the mere possibility provides you an excuse to complain about the law.
To my mind, the hidden tax you complain about is the added cost to overhead for these bags that the store charges me, even though I bring my own bags. So I'm being charged to provide you with free bags - how is that fair?
Let everyone bring their own bags and we'll save money, save petroleum, save landfill space, and save wild life.
Hardly a pointless measure.

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Posted by Jackie
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Jan 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm

I don't mind the ban on plastic bags, but the ban (or fee) for using paper bags is ridiculous. I use paper bags, which are made from recycled material, for storing and disposing of all the household recyclebles. Now I will buy plastic bags, which are much more difficult to dispose of, for thw same purpose. An added cost to me and the environmentalists!

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm


if we are to pay for our bags we should pay what they actually cost and it isn't ten cents or twenty five cents a piece. There's your hidden tax. Charge the one or two cents each that they actually cost and I'll gladly pay it and you can continue to bring your own bags and not subsidize my bags. That sounds fair and doesn't impose a hidden tax.

The bag problem is a people problem not a bag problem. Get people to properly dispose of them instead of banning something that is a perfectly usefull product.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Menlo Voter -
I see your point about the hidden cost to you for each plastic bag. However, I think you're neglecting to consider the full hidden cost, which must include costs to the communities that have to deal with the plastic bag after you've discarded it.
San Francisco estimates that to clean up, recycle and landfill plastic bags costs as much as 17 cents a bag, or approximately $8.5 million a year. San Jose reports that it costs about $1 million a year to repair recycling equipment jammed with plastic bags.
There's also the cost on the consumer end. Grocery stores embed 2 cents to 5 cents per plastic bag in the cost of food. A ban would save approximately $18 to $30 per person annually.
You say the bag problem is a people problem, not a bag problem, and we just need to get people to properly dispose of them. But with plastic bags, we are dealing with a product that has an inherent design flaw. The bags are lightweight, aerodynamic, practically indestructible and made specifically to be discarded. Since 2007, the state of California has been working on an in-store program to recycle bags but there is no conclusive evidence that it has been successful. Plastic bags continue to be one of the top items collected on International Coastal Cleanup Day. If changing people's behaviors were as easy as you suggest it is, we wouldn't have work crews out cleaning our streets & highways where plastic bags are a big component of the trash.
While unfortunate, an invasion into private business is often warranted when a product is causing significant economic and environmental damage on a massive scale. That is the case with plastic bags. They must be replaced with something safe.

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Posted by bag man
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Those who are worried about the "dangerous bacteria" found inside grocery bags may want to read this little note from Consumer's Union, who publish Consumer's Reports.

Web Link

In general, if one checked for contamination on the grocery items themselves before going into the bag, particularly any produce items, you would see bacteria and molds. They are part of our world. It s unfortunate the chemical and plastics industries produce these biased "studies" and have so much money invested in media manipulation of public opinion.

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Posted by Margo McAuliffe
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I am puzzled by all the negative reactions, as if the writers have not thought beyond the initial cost of using cloth bags. I have used them exclusively for more than 20 years with no discernible ill effects. I toss them in the washer from time to time when necessary, but most items are way over packaged anyway.

Even at that, plastic bags get into my house, from newspapers and unconscious folks who bring them. Shortly I will have a sign on my door that reads Plastic Bag Free House. It won't get rid of the newspaper bags on rainy mornings, but I do recycle them vs putting them in the garbage. I also buy biodegradable bags for garbage, pet waste and food waste that goes into the compost. Anyone interested can Google biodegradable bags and find a number of companies that sell them in any size.

This is not a money issue for most of us. It is an issue of saving the earth, particularly the ocean. If you have not seen information about Plastic Island in the Pacific, which is now bigger than the state of Texas, you need so find out about it. If that doesn't wake you up....I don't know. Very sad, but now is the time to care about our earth. It's the only one we are going to be issued!!!

Margo McAuliffe

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Posted by jene
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 25, 2013 at 12:54 pm

This really penalizes poor people and seniors. shame on you.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Jene -
I don't understand your comment. Why can't poor people and seniors recycle bags too? In fact, if stores charge people for the bags they use, those who recycle will save money by not having to pay the hidden cost of the bags that stores now hide in "overhead" charges.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 25, 2013 at 6:29 pm


if people use and recycle paper bags, what's the problem there? They're made out of recyclable material, can be recycled and don't contribute to the plastic bag problem. Yet, those are no good either. Why? We can alluse paper bags, recycle them or reuse them as many of us do and they don't use oil. Problem?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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