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South Lake Tahoe Bans Plastic Bags


The city council of South Lake Tahoe, CA, has passed an ordinance that bans single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and retailers beginning in 2014. The measure, which was adopted by a 3-2 margin, will go into effect on January 15 for grocery stores and food vendors, and on October 15, 2014, for all other retailers.

Andy Kaufer, owner of Pro Leisure (asi/299709) in South Lake Tahoe, has already seen some interest from clients in reusable bags as a result of the legislation. "There are a couple clients who got bags from us for that reason, because they knew this was coming down the pike," he said.

As a tradeoff, the ordinance will cause vendors to offer only paper bags to customers, while encouraging the use of reusable bags, which customers would need to bring in. For competitive reasons, grocers argue no store would charge for paper bags. According to the California Grocers Association, paper bags cost 5 to 11 cents more than plastic bags, a cost that grocery stores will essentially be forced to absorb. The Tahoe Daily Tribune reported that the owners of Grocery Outlet in South Lake Tahoe submitted a letter to the council echoing the sentiments of many local vendors.

"Without regulating all single-use carryout bags," wrote Grocery Outlet Owners Mike and Kim Schouten, "consumers are not encouraged to use a reusable bag and instead simply switch from one type of single-use bag to another single-use bag which provides no environmental benefit and increases operational costs for retailers."

Kaufer acknowledges that the measure has proved unpopular locally with businesses, and doesn't see the wisdom of merely banning plastic bags. "To me it's kind of silly," he said. "I get the whole ban on plastic, but now we have more paper bags. We're just changing one for the other." He suggests it would be better for his city to adopt a model like Europe and eliminate all single-use bags, forcing customers to bring their own. "The reusable bag has to be the push," he said.

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