Northern Santa Barbara County shoppers are more savvy about a potential bag ban than local authorities may have believed. In a street poll of 40 North County residents in unincorporated areas, all were aware of similar bans, and none were opposed to them.
“I surf, and I surf with enough plastic bags in the water, and there’s always bags blowing around the neighborhood,” said Shawn O’Brien of Orcutt.
In mid-October, Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to direct county staff to develop a permanent ordinance banning single-use plastic bags in unincorporated areas. North County supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino dissented without comment.
If adopted, the ban could apply to two types of businesses: stores of at least 10,000 square feet that sell dry groceries or canned goods, and drug stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, grocery stores, food marts, convenience food stores or similar retail stores.
According to Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2004, the last year it reported on plastic bag usage, some 4 trillion to 5 trillion plastic bags, including thin grocery bags, thick shopping bags and large trash bags, were produced globally in 2002. Roughly 80 percent of those were used in North America and Western Europe.
The Worldwatch study further stated that Americans reportedly throw away 100 billion plastic grocery bags annually. The Wall Street Journal reported that 12 million barrels of oil are used each year in the manufacture of the bags Americans use and throw away
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, fewer than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the U.S. O’Brien had been shopping at an Orcutt supermarket with his 2-year-old daughter, Roberta. They left the store with a package of tortillas; no bag.
“I don’t care. I go to Costco and they don’t give me bags. I take the stuff to my car and unload it at home,” O’Brien said.
Bag bans are hardly new. San Francisco imposed a city/countywide ban in 2007. To date, 117 cities, counties or special districts from California and Alaska to Washington, D.C., have imposed some sort of ban, fee or combination on plastic bag usage, according to Surfrider Foundation.
Jennifer Byrne of Orcutt walked out of an Orcutt grocery store with her kids and a cart full of groceries bagged in heavy-duty, colorful, reusable plastic sacks.
“I love the idea. I hate the plastic plague that’s taking over our planet. I didn’t have kids so I could leave them my trash,” she said.
Some shoppers, like Mike Williams of Orcutt, appreciates the convenience of store-supplied bags, but they all said they would bring their own bags if push came to shove.
Williams added that plastic bags are recycled in his house. His wife uses them for trash can liners at the preschool where she works.
“We reuse everything. We never throw anything away at our house,” he said.
For visitors from around the world, receiving bags after shopping is an odd concept.
“I have no problem with a ban. I’m from Europe. We bring our own bags all the time,” said Gosia Meyers of Orcutt.
But Meyers, formerly of Poland, had forgotten her own bags for the recent trip and had five store-supplied plastic bags in her cart.
“It was just pure laziness,” she said.
The proposed ban would not apply to restaurants, department stores and wine-tasting rooms.
That’s good news for Marty Willey, owner of Company’s Coming, a gift shop in Orcutt. She worried about the ban’s enforcement methods and related paperwork.
In San Luis Obispo County, which banned plastic bags countywide more than a year ago, shoppers pay 10 cents a bag if they don’t have a reusable shopping bag with them and want to buy a bag for their purchases. The same rate is being proposed for Santa Barbara County.
“If we’re selling bags, where does the money go? Who keeps track of that? Who do I have to report to? If I have to keep track of when customers get bags, charge them, and keep track of it to report to someone else, it’s too much,” Willey said.
Down the road in Old Orcutt, Mark Steller doesn’t see it that way.
“It could be a money-saving deal. I spend about $300 a month on plastic bags. Those bags end up everywhere, and I think that’s kind of tragic,” said Steller, who owns the Old Town Market.
At 5,000 square feet, Steller’s store may not be required to honor the ban.
“I’ll probably join, but we’ll see when we have more details,” Steller said.
He noted many of his shoppers already bring their own bags to the store.
“I think people are pretty aware already, but there will be some people who don’t like to be told what to do who will be blown away by it,” Steller said.
The ban has had its critics in San Luis Obispo County. Some have voiced concerns about food-borne or other illnesses caused by improper use of reusable cloth bags. These bags can harbor bacteria from food residue or harbor mold if they aren’t washed frequently.
Others have expressed support for the idea behind the ban.
“I love it. It’s good for the environment, but it did take awhile to get used to,” said Jenna Miller of San Luis Obispo.
Miller was shopping with Kelly Donohue of Shell Beach at DePalo & Sons on Shell Beach Road.
“It makes you conscientious. It makes you more aware that everything you do generates paper and plastic and costs money. I have a million reusable bags. I collect them. They’re fun,” Donohue said.
DePalo & Sons manager Linette Grosenbach said few customers complain about the ban.
“It hasn’t really affected us. Most customers really think about whether or not they need a bag. Some people get upset at the 10 cents if they forgot their bag, but for the most part, customers don’t care,” Grosenbach said.
Staff writer April Charlton contributed to this story.