A mixed bag of reaction: County's plastic bag ban takes effect

Many shoppers around the county hit the stores prepared; others are surprised at new ordinance

clambert@thetribunenews.comOctober 1, 2012 

Plastic bags disappeared from hundreds of stores across San Luis Obispo County on Monday as a much-debated ban of single-use plastic shopping bags went into effect.

Shoppers interviewed at several supermarkets and retail stores said they’d heard of the ban and came prepared with reusable bags to buy groceries and other items. But others were caught unaware.

“I just moved here from Miami, so it’s all new to me,” said Shell Beach resident Shannon Lopez, who bought a reusable blue-and-white striped tote to carry away her lunch at De Palo & Sons in lieu of buying a paper bag. “I’ll keep it in my truck.”

An ordinance adopted by the San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority board in January bans plastic bags at most stores in the county, but it allows them to distribute paper bags if they charge customers 10 cents per bag.

The ban affects supermarkets, pharmacies, convenience stores and those with more than 10,000 square feet of retail space, including home improvement, sporting goods and department stores.

It does not apply to restaurants, nonretail businesses or industrial operations.

Retailers countywide have pulled plastic bags from their checkout counters, stocked up on paper bags and reusable totes, and posted signs alerting shoppers to the switch. Some are still trying to figure out what to do with their leftover plastic bags.

“I have nine cases in the back of plastic bags,” said Marten VanBeveren, manager of J.J.’s Market on the Nipomo Mesa. He hopes to donate them to a food distribution program.

On Monday, stacks of tan reusable bags sat next to piles of brown paper bags at the end of the market’s checkout lines.

Two customers had already eschewed a bag that morning and took their groceries outside in a shopping cart to load directly into their vehicles, VanBeveren said.

“It’s just something to get used to,” said customer Rebecca Horner of Arroyo Grande, who carried her groceries outside in a reusable bag.

She questioned, though, how department stores would ensure people don’t shoplift.

Shell Beach resident Anna Canaday, who’s opposed to the ban, wondered the same thing as she loaded several reusable bags into her car outside Walmart in Arroyo Grande.

“How many people could walk out the door with a cart full of stuff?” she asked.

Wal-Mart Inc. officials could not immediately be reached for comment. However, Patti Toews, program manager for the Integrated Waste Management Authority, noted that stores have had months to prepare for the ban and are likely to be on “high alert” for potential shoplifters.

Toews visited several stores Monday.

“I saw a surprising number of people bring their own bags, which is excellent,” she said.

Nipomo residents Greg and Tricia Braun walked into the Arroyo Grande Walmart without a bag but left with a new, blue reusable one.

They hadn’t realized the ban started Monday and were trying to decide what they’ll now use to line their kitchen trash can and dispose of cat litter.

“We were kind of surprised today,” Greg Braun said. “It’s probably a good idea, though.”

San Luis Obispo shopper Kelly Yates also forgot a bag when she went into the Kohl’s department store on Madonna Road.

The store now carries paper and reusable bags, but Yates left carrying the two tops she’d just bought.

“I kept my receipt in hand just in case,” Yates said.

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