FAIRFIELD — Potrero Hills Landfill is a place where plastic bags end up after being thrown away, having served their purpose of carrying groceries and other products.
But some bags don’t go quietly into that dark night of disposal. A gust of wind comes and they take flight, looking like white jelly fish as they swiftly move through the air. Landfill litter crews retrieve them.
“It’s very annoying to see them along the side of the roadway,” said Jim Dunbar of Potrero Hills Landfill.
Dunbar wouldn’t mind if the bags never came to the landfill in the first place – and it goes beyond their aerodynamic qualities.
“They don’t provide any real value,” he said. “They don’t decompose in any real manner. They do become a litter nuisance.”
When Potrero Hills Landfill officials give schoolchildren tours of the landfill or talk to them in classrooms, they hand out reusable shopping bags.
More than 70 California communities have gone further than encouraging shoppers to take reusable bags to stores. They’ve banned stores from handing out single-use, plastic shopping bags. Solano County communities will soon decide if the matter is worth exploring.
Plastic bags have for years been a divisive issue. Proponents of the bags talk about their convenience. Opponents say the bags blow away, get into waterways and end up in the ocean, harming sea life.
Love them or hate them, the plastic bag is ubiquitous. California taxpayers spend $25 million to dispose of the 19 billion plastic bags used annually, according to a state report.
That’s only 2.2 percent of the waste stream. But plastics are 60 percent to 80 percent of all marine debris and 90 percent of floating debris, the report said.
Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan initiated a discussion at the Feb. 11 Solano County Board of Supervisors meeting after supervisors heard about proposals in the state Legislature for a statewide plastic bag ban.
Past state efforts to ban plastic bags have failed, Hannigan said. It’s important that the county look at the possible benefits of a local plastic bag ban, she said.
After the meeting, Hannigan said her concerns stem in part from representing Vallejo. The city has such waterways as the Carquinez Strait and Napa River where plastic bags can harm fish, she said.
Supervisor Jim Spering supported having county staff gather information on the topic, but he also cautioned his colleagues.
“Somehow, we need to get input from businesses,” Spering said.
Supervisor John Vasquez had concerns of his own. He wondered if a plastic bag ban would extend to the clear bags that people get at stores and farmers markets for lettuce and other produce.
“I would just be afraid of the unintentional consequences of something that gets enacted and people interpret it,” Vasquez said.
The Board of Supervisors could enact a plastic bag ban only for rural areas, where there are few stores. For any local plastic bag ban to really have an effect, it would have to cover the cities that are governed by city councils.
Hannigan proposed a presentation on the plastic bag issue take place at a March meeting among supervisors and the mayors from the county’s seven cities. The mayors and supervisors have these periodic meetings to keep in touch and discuss issues of mutual concern.
That Solano County-City Coordinating Council meeting with plastic bags on the agenda is to take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Solano County Water Agency offices, 810 Vaca Valley Parkway, Suite 203, in Vacaville.
Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said the plastic bag ban issue hasn’t come up much in his city.
“I think it’s something the council needs to take a look at, yes,” Price said. “I know at Trader Joe’s, they have been very good about promoting the use of paper bags.”
But he’s concerned that a plastic bag ban might negatively affect a major employer such as Jelly Belly, which packages many of its products in resealable plastic bags.
Fairfield-Suisun Chamber of Commerce CEO Debi Tavey has mentioned the plastic bag ban issue to some of the chamber board members.
“They’re just thinking about it and don’t want to take a stance on it yet,” Tavey said.
Should proposed plastic bag bans gain momentum, the chamber’s Business Issues Committee would probably take a stand on it, Tavey said. The committee’s ideas would then be taken to the chamber board for an official chamber stance.
Of course, stores wouldn’t offer plastic bags if customers didn’t take them, even without a ban. But the bags remain popular.
Gysele Reed of Fairfield on a recent day at the FoodMaxx parking lot loaded a plastic bag from her shopping cart into her car trunk. She hadn’t heard about a possible state plastic bag ban or the harm that proponents say the bags can cause to marine life.
“If they ban it because it’s a hazard, it’s fine with me,” she said.
But, upon further thought, she made it clear that she likes the plastic bags.
“When they say ‘Paper or plastic?’, I say, ‘Plastic.’ I feel the plastic is stronger,” Reed said.
Plus, she can use the plastic bags at home for such things as kitchen trash, she said.
Davis in neighboring Yolo County is among the California cities that have passed plastic bag bans. It did so Nov. 12, 2013, with the ban to take effect in July.
Stores in that city will be able to give customers only paper bags at a price of at least 10 cents per bag. Businesses that violate the plastic bag ban can be fined $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second violation and $500 for subsequent violations.
The ban does not apply to bags used to package items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy and cookies or to wrap flowers, plants, newspapers and items that have been dry cleaned, among other things.
That’s the future for plastic bags in Davis. Whether it’s the future in Solano County and its cities or the state as a whole could become more clear in coming months.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.