San Jose May Ban Plastic Bags

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Expect the Bay Area to get a little less trashy if San Jose makes good on a proposal to ditch plastic bags.

Two years in the works, the city's proposed ban would affect any single-use plastic bag, and would also require that paper bags be made from recycled paper -- for a small fee. Retailers would be allowed to keep the revenue generated by selling paper bags.

Some exemptions would be offered, such as for take-out food, for stores serving low-income customers and garbage can liners. Citizens who wish to purchase plastic bags would still be allowed to do so.

Not surprisingly, the American Chemistry Council, whose members produce the polluting bags, opposes the ban. They've claimed that the bags are recyclable, but that's misleading. The bags can be recycled, but it's so difficult and expensive that recycling is an impractical option in most cases. The ACC has threatened litigation to stop the ban, claiming that it violates a statewide prohibition on fees that cover specific programs. But the city says that that rule doesn't apply in this case, since the fees would go to store owners rather than the city.

Stores are required to recycle plastic bags, but only about a tenth of bags get recycled. Many simply end up blowing around in the wind, clogging up sewers, getting caught in trees, and making their way out into the ocean to kill wildlife.

San Francisco began a limited ban on plastic bags in 2007, and it's been a huge success. Cities from Palo Alto to Oakland to Los Angeles County are considering duplicating the measure.

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