South Shore officials spreading word about plastic bag ban

Tom Lotshaw

City officials are trying to spread awareness about South Lake Tahoe’s new ban on plastic single-use carryout bags.

The ban takes effect for grocery stores and food vendors, including farmers markets, on Jan. 15. For all remaining retail establishments, it will take effect on Oct. 15.

A dozen or so residents and business owners showed up to discuss, ask questions and learn more about the ban at an hour-long informational meeting the city offered Wednesday evening.

One man who said he represents a number of area restaurants asked what kind of impact the city’s plastic bag ban would have on them.

Public eating establishments such as restaurants that get 90 percent or more of their revenue from the sale of food prepared on site but eaten on or off premises are excluded from the ban, City Attorney Thomas Watson said.

That’s one of several exclusions the South Lake Tahoe City Council tucked into an ordinance creating the ban last month.

Also exempt are nonprofit charitable organizations that reuse or recycle donated goods or materials.

Plastic bags without handles are excluded if provided to carry produce, bulk food or meat products to a point of sale; hold prescription medication from a pharmacy; or segregate goods that could damage or contaminate other items if placed together in a bag.

The ban doesn’t apply to the sale or use of garbage bags or sandwich bags or to people’s individual use of plastic bags; only to retail businesses’ ability to offer plastic single-use carryout bags for their customers at point-of-sale.

Talks about South Lake Tahoe’s plastic bag ban started in 2008 with a city sustainability commission exploring a Sustainability Plan and zero-waste policies, Watson said.

The idea of the ban made it into a formal Sustainability Plan the city adopted and then went through several years of public workshops and forums before a draft ordinance was introduced in November 2012 and tabled.

The ordinance resurfaced this summer, was amended, and adopted with a 3-2 vote by the City Council in October.

As the ban goes into effect, it will be policed by South Lake Tahoe code enforcement only as public complaints about violations are made, Watson said.

“It’s not about punishing business or residents, it’s about reducing piles of plastic,” he said. “We’re trying to reduce a waste stream that probably everyone would agree is a problem.

The ordinance can be monitored, reviewed and amended if needed as it takes affect.

A first violation will result in a warning and 14 days to comply. Further violations will result in a citation and fines that the City Council has yet to set.

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