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A critical issue that the City of San Diego will be facing this year, which we hope will appear on the 2009 Report Card, is a proposed ordinance that will ban plastic carryout bags and place a fee on paper bags at large chain grocery stores and pharmacies within city limits. There are an astounding 19 billion plastic carryout bags used every year in California. That is approximately 600 plastic bags per person, and with less than 5 percent of these bags being recycled, millions are crowding our landfills, littering our parks and city streets and polluting our waterways.

Plastic carry-out bags are a leading component contributing to the plastic marine debris problem facing our world’s oceans. These plastic bags find their way to our ocean through city storm drain systems and because they can take up to 1,000 years to break down, they are a constant hazard to marine mammals, fish, birds and the overall health of coastal and marine ecosystems. Plastic, a non-biodegradable and toxic material, also poses serious human health risks when it enters the food chain through seafood consumption and contaminates soil and waterways.

This ordinance would be the best solution to plastic bag pollution and will only apply to grocery stores that generate gross annual sales of two million dollars or more and pharmacies with at least 5 locations under the same ownership within the city of San Diego that provide plastic bags at the point of sale. This ordinance will not affect small businesses and restaurants.

It is crucial the city take the necessary steps to pass this ordinance in order to rid city streets, public parks and our ocean of the extensive litter these bags create. The American Chemistry Council, which represents the makers of plastic bags, counters that bag recycling is the best option to reduce unwanted litter and marine debris. Of course, recycling is a vital component in alleviating the damage of over-consumption. But recycling cannot solve the plastic carryout bag pollution dilemma. Recycling is expensive, no market currently exists for the recycled material, and it has proven to be largely ineffective where it has been tried. Banning plastic bags and placing a fee on paper will persuade consumers to utilize reusable shopping bags while reducing the distribution of unnecessary plastic, a man-made, toxic and petroleum-based product, which the world has seen enough of already.

The San Diego City Council’s Natural Resources and Culture Committee voted on December 3 to move the proposed Plastic and Paper Bag Reduction Ordinance to full City Council within 90 days, which would be March 3. With this deadline fast approaching (and likely to be missed), the environmental community is asking that this ordinance be considered at a City Council meeting by the end of March. Many other communities and countries have adopted or are considering similar measures. … it is time San Diego took a leadership role on this important issue.

— COLIN PARENT

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