An expansion of South Lake Tahoe’s plastic bag ban to include retail businesses might not happen as planned, with a majority of City Council members preferring to put it on hold for at least one year.
The city’s ban on single-use carryout plastic bags took effect for grocery stores in January. As written, the ban is scheduled to go into effect for hundreds of other businesses in the city in October.
During a scheduled review of the plastic bag ban Tuesday, council members Brooke Laine and Angela Swanson said they want to see it expand to retail businesses as planned.
“I appreciate this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to what I think is the environmentally correct thing to do for Tahoe and its future,” Laine said about the expansion.
But Laine and Swanson were in the minority. Council members Hal Cole, JoAnn Conner and Tom Davis said they want to amend the ordinance in coming weeks to put the ban’s expansion on hold for at least one year.
Cole said the ban has resulted in a significant, positive change with its impact on grocery stores that handed out large numbers of plastic bags, but that he questions allowing it to expand to include hardware stores, dry cleaners and retail businesses.
“I still really have a problem taking this (mandate) down to the small retailers,” Cole said. He noted that businesses are free to voluntarily stop offering customers plastic bags if that’s what they want to do — a point that was echoed by Conner.
Davis said he doesn’t see much need for South Lake Tahoe’s plastic bag ban, with millions of bags handed out each year and only a tiny fraction of them collected in litter cleanup efforts. Davis added that he would support a broader ban covering all of California or even the Lake Tahoe Basin.
South Lake Tahoe officials have held several workshops in recent months to get public feedback on the plastic bag ban and it’s impacts. All of the workshops have been sparsely attended. The ban was adopted in 2013.
Betty “B” Gorman, director of the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce, said the plastic bag ban is not a top priority for businesses in the city.
“Retailers have bigger concerns. They’re not concerned about plastic bags,” she told the council.
“This is the not the issue hurting our businesses right now. If we want to worry about helping them, we can talk about that, but this is not the issue keeping them awake at night.”
Aaron Hussman, a community engagement associate for League to Save Lake Tahoe, encouraged City Council to let the ban on carryout plastic bags expand. “We have had countless positive conversations about how happy people are with South Lake Tahoe’s ban,” he said.
Swanson said the issue comes down to where South Lake Tahoe stands on environmental issues. She also pointed to the lack of businesses opposing the plastic bag ban’s expansion.
“I see no one arguing it, no one fighting it,” Swanson said. “We all see people have changed habits walking into the store. I walk into Safeway and when I see how many people stop and turn around because they forgot their (reusable) bags I laugh and I smile and I turn around to get mine,” Swanson said.
Legislation to delay the plastic bag ban’s expansion from Oct. 15, 2014 to Oct. 15, 2015 will be introduced for formal consideration by the City Council in coming weeks.