Plastic grocery bags closer to being banned in SLO County

Single-use plastic bags such as those found at most grocery stores will be prohibited at stores countywide, and retailers will begin charging at least 10 cents for paper bags next year, if the San Luis Obispo County waste board approves the plan in November.

The county’s Integrated Waste Management Authority’s board of directors agreed Wednesday to craft an ordinance outlining the plan.

Under the plan, retailers would be able to keep fees received for the paper bags to help offset their cost.

Other, flimsy plastic bags, such as those used for produce or meat, would still be allowed.

Officials hope to have the law in place by Sept. 1, 2012, throughout the county, including in all seven cities.

The law would apply to all supermarkets, retail stores over 10,000 square feet, pharmacies and convenience stores. Farmers markets and nonprofit thrift stores would be exempt.

A three-month grace period — after the law takes effect — would be required before retailers begin charging for paper bags.

The ordinance — which initially was aimed at banning all single-use plastic and paper bags — has changed dramatically since the waste management board first began discussing it.

Nearly 20 people addressed the board Wednesday during public comment — the majority clearly supporting the proposed law.

Supporters say the plan will reduce waste and encourage consumers to reuse existing bags.

“The grocery industry is really ready to move forward on this issue,” said John Spencer, owner of Spencer’s Fresh Markets. “This is not just a county issue; it is a global issue.”

One critic of the plan, Mike Brown, director of the group Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, said that the ordinance was a “slippery slope” of trying to “change human behavior by sanctions or incentives.”

Brown argued that the proposed law has allowing government to encroach too much into community members’ rights to make decisions for themselves.

Sitting on the Integrated Waste Management Authority’s board of directors are all five county supervisors, a representative from each of the county’s seven cities, and a representative for the county’s special districts.

Supervisor Frank Mecham was the only member to dissent on the proposed ordinance, expressing the desire to see more time for community outreach to discuss the changes and gain support before its implementation.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.