It has been said that Tahoe is an environmentally conscious community, but the City Council failed to live up to that reputation when it declined to vote on a plastic-bag ban at its Jan. 22 meeting.
There's a conversation growing around this issue, one that should not be ignored by the council.
Concerns that were raised included that the ban would affect fixed-income residents, take away convenience, deter tourists and could contribute to the spreading of food-borne illnesses. In the end, the council decided not to make a decision.
South Lake Tahoe is not the first city to consider a plastic-bag ban. We're not tackling a groundbreaking decision by any stretch of the imagination. It has been done. At this point, the city would be following in the footsteps of more than 50 cities and counties in California that have successfully implemented bans.
Community support for plastic-bag bans has been voiced both in South Lake Tahoe and in Truckee, which is surveying residents about a proposed ban.
Plastic bags end up in the lake, litter areas and contribute to global warming because they're made of nonrenewable resources, including oil. They also build up in landfills and pose a suffocation risk to children and pets. Only 1-2 percent actually end up being recycled.
Many shoppers already use reusable bags - the ban would just take it to the next level. If a city as large as San Francisco can make it work, there's no reason we can't make it work here. Tourists from the Bay Area often visit Tahoe, and are likely used to bringing reusable bags since many of them come from communities where bans are already in place.
Those who don't want to keep purchasing paper bags can buy reusable bags, which can cost as little as a dollar or two. While stores would no longer provide carryout plastic bags, paper bags would still be available for a dime each. San Francisco addressed concerns about the economic impact this would have on fixed-income families by waiving the fee for shoppers on food stamp programs. To deal with fears of food-borne illnesses, shoppers can wash their reusable bags. The point is that other cities with plastic-bag bans have raised the same concerns as our council, but have found ways to deal with them. The City Council should look at what other cities have done and learn from their policies to come up with a realistic, practical plan for South Lake Tahoe.
Approving the ban is an obvious choice that the council appears hesitant to make. While no decision is better than a "no" decision, the issue shouldn't be put off. If the council doesn't feel like the proposal makes sense, it needs to figure out how to alter it so it will work for us. There are working models of the policy already in place. There are answers out there.
We hope that, instead of tabling the issue and hoping the public will forget about it, the council will revisit the issue soon and approve it. It should seize the opportunity to do something positive for our community.