Berkeley City Council takes step forward in adopting plastic bag ban

With Alameda County poised to adopt a single-use plastic bag ban soon, the Berkeley City Council decided at its meeting Tuesday night to officially inform the public that such a ban may be on its way in the city.

The item, authored by Councilmember Kriss Worthington, was moved to the council’s consent calendar — which is passed as a slate — after wording changes were agreed upon to specify that the city will create a press release about the upcoming meeting regarding a countywide ordinance on single-use plastic bags.

The Alameda County Waste Management Authority will hold a public hearing Nov. 16 on an ordinance regarding single-use bags as well as that ordinance’s Environmental Impact Report, which found no significant impacts to the environment. The draft ordinance effectively prohibits stores from providing single-use plastic bags while placing a minimum 10-cent charge on recycled paper bags and reusable bags.

However, a city could opt out of the ordinance through a resolution of its governing body, according to the draft ordinance.

In addition, the ordinance would not apply to single-use carry-out bags or reusable bags given to customers by food providers for takeout foods and drinks, according to the draft. Certain public or nonprofit bodies would also be exempt.

Originally, the council item called for the initiation of a “public process to inform residents and businesses” that the city is “seriously considering” adopting a ban through the countywide ordinance.

“I was concerned we were going to spend a lot of staff time on this,” said Councilmember Laurie Capitelli at the meeting.

At the meeting, several people encouraged the council to adopt a stricter ordinance than what is currently on the table for the rest of the county.

Megan Majd, oceans coordinator for the UC Berkeley chapter of CALPIRG, called for the city to include all retail establishments in the ban.

According to a statement from Environment California, a statewide environmental advocacy organization that has also been pushing for the ban, over 5,000 petitions from Berkeley residents supporting the ban have been collected between Environment California and CALPIRG.

“When a bathtub is overflowing, what do you do? You turn off the faucet,” Majd said at the meeting. “We need to stop this problem at the source, and we need to ban plastic bags.”