Plastic bag ban upheld in Marin County

Plastic bag ban upheld in Marin County

By Bobby Elliott, Plastics Recycling Update

Oct. 9, 2013

The California Supreme Court last week unanimously ruled in favor of a Marin County bag ban, paving the way for future ordinances to be introduced and dealing another blow to industry groups fighting against bans on plastic bags.

The decision is the second major ruling this year that sided against the plastic bag industry's attempts nullify Marin County's plastic bag ban, which also applies a five cent fee on paper bags. Earlier this year the industry unsuccessfully argued that the fee on paper bags represented a tax and required voter approval.

This time around, however, the industry took another route, arguing that the ban encouraged residents to waste paper bags and required an environmental impact report (EIR). After an appellate court ruled that no such study was needed, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition pushed ahead with its fight, asking the Supreme Court to review the decision and reopen the debate.

In the unanimous ruling, the high court said that under California state law, Marin County's ordinance was categorically exempt from being required to conduct an EIR. Citing the overall purpose of the ordinance to encourage "a shift from single-use bags to reusable bags," the justices held that the ban provided sufficient incentive for residents to make the switch.

The security of Marin County's ordinance, barring a third attempt to strike it down, could have ripple effects throughout the region. As it stands, the ordinance only applies to unincorporated parts of the county — impacting roughly 40 retailers — and leaves more than 400 retailers in the rest of county still without a ban. Marin's supervisor Steve Kinsey told the Marin Independent Journal that more communities should join the initiative. "What will make it truly worth the effort is having all of our cities and towns join the county by adopting the ban in their communities," Kinsey said.

Meanwhile, Save the Plastic Bag Coalition counsel Stephen Joseph told Plastics Recycling Update that the Marin County decision "has a very limited impact" on a separate case in San Francisco. "The pending San Francisco case, which involves a far larger bag ban (9,000 stores plus 5,000 restaurants), hinges to a large extent on whether a city or county may rely on a paper bag fee in making a categorical exemption determination," Joseph said. "We say that a city or county may not rely on the fee."

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