Plastic bag ban takes effect at South Lake Tahoe grocery stores

Single-use carryout plastic bags were disappearing from checkout lines at local groceries Wednesday as South Lake Tahoe’s bag ban took effect.

The measure, which was passed by South Lake Tahoe City Council with a 3-2 vote in October, applies to grocers and food vendors in the city.

But the old question of paper or plastic isn’t necessarily gone. Grocery Outlet customers have options to consider. They can pay 5 cents for a paper bag, 10 cents for a reusable plastic bag or 99 cents for a reusable fabric bag. Or they can follow the advice on a sign out front and remember to bring in their own reusable bags.

The store was giving free reusable bags to regular customers this week and setting up signs to help remind shoppers of the ban.

“For local shoppers, most of them know it’s coming and they’re ready and it will be an easy transition,” said Mike Schouten, who owns and operates Grocery Outlet with his wife, Kim.

Customers at the store Wednesday were of mixed minds about the ban.

One woman didn’t mince words. “This ban sucks,” she said while walking out the door.

A couple customers left the store with shopping carts holding their un-bagged groceries. Others had their own reusable bags all ready to go, the same as any other day.

Michael Jones, a ski resort employee, said he’s used to bringing his bag. It’s just bigger than most. Jones shops once a month and left with a large hiking pack on his back stuffed full of groceries.

Nicole Townsend, a spokeswoman for Raley’s, said its South Lake Tahoe stores are also putting up signs to remind customers about the ban. The first 500 customers on Wednesday were given a free reusable bag.

Raley’s shoppers can pay 5 cents for a paper bag, buy any one of an assortment of reusable bags the stores offer or bring their own.

“We have signs up to remind people and explain that due to the city’s new bag ordinance we cannot offer plastic bags for carryout at stores in South Lake Tahoe,” Townsend said. “We would encourage customers to bring in their own reusable bags.”

Money raised from paper bag sales at Raley’s will go to the local library through the company’s charity program, Townsend said.

“That was voted on by customers across our chain, so the public libraries there would benefit from that.”

During this introductory period, Safeway stores are offering customers free paper bags, as well as free reusable bags for customers who spend $25 or more on their groceries, said company spokesman Keith Turner.

“We carry, and highly recommend, reusable bags, which are available for sale at each check stand,” Turner said.

South Lake Tahoe’s ban applies only to single-use carryout plastic bags given out at the point of sale. The ban does not apply to restaurants or to a wide array of other types of plastic bags such as sandwich bags or garbage bags or to plastic bags used to wrap meat or produce.

For now, South Lake Tahoe’s ban has no penalty for violations. The City Council chose to not impose fines for the first three months as the ban takes effect and gets reviewed. The ban will extend to retail businesses in the city Oct. 15.

South Lake Tahoe city employees visited grocery stores several times this week to hand out free reusable bags.

South Shore resident Sue Abrams said that was a smart move by the city. She called the city’s ban a fiasco that will only hurt local residents and businesses that already face higher-cost goods in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“I happen to be a person that says I have enough rules as it is, and I can make my own choices and decisions,” she said of the city ordinance.

Abrams said she doesn’t want to use cloth bags, which she said require regular cleaning to remain sanitary — and that she will be seeking out grocery stores that provide paper bags for free.

Mike Schouten at Grocery Outlet predicts a relatively simple rollout. He estimates 20 to 30 percent of his customers are already using reusable bags.

His wife, Kim, had wanted to see South Lake Tahoe wait for California to implement a statewide ban for consistency’s sake.

“That’s our only concern, that every state or every little city will be different,” she said.

“We’ll learn so much more tomorrow and as we come into the weekend when tourists hopefully come up. We’ll have an ad playing over our PA every 10 minutes to remind people about reusable bags and the price we’re charging for bags.”


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 17, 2014 07:50PM Published Jan 24, 2014 08:11PM Copyright 2014 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.