Editorial: Make bag ban a 3-time loser in San Clemente

The San Clemente City Council declined in 2011 and 2012 to move forward with a citywide ban on single-use plastic bags. The matter comes before the council yet again Tuesday.

Plastic bag bans are either in place or under consideration in more than 60 California cities, including Dana Point and Laguna Beach. The state Legislature also is considering separate measures by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, and Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, to impose a statewide ban.

It seems the San Clemente council should wait to see what happens in Sacramento before taking the next step toward a local ban. However, staff notes that a statewide plastic bag ban failed in 2010 and again in 2011.

So, city staff has recommended that the council Tuesday “consider”  the request of the city's Coastal Advisory Committee to enact an ordinance that would outlaw plastic bags while also imposing a fee on paper bags (which San Clemente merchants would be required to collect).

Staff maintains that the plastic bag ban would do much to reduce pollution, as “at least 20,000 plastic bags are removed from the city's street/storm drain system each year,” while the fee on paper bags would discourage their use as well, “which reduces that potential adverse environmental impact also.”

So, San Clemente shoppers would be encouraged to employ reusable grocery bags, like the increasingly prevalent cotton bags for sale at markets. But there two huge problems with reusable cotton bags: They are more deleterious to the environment than plastic bags; and they pose a potential public health threat.

Indeed, a report last year by the National Center for Policy Analysis noted that plastic bags require far less energy to produce than substitutes.

Paper bags use four times the energy, which means four times the greenhouse gas emissions. The reusable cotton bags favored by many environmentalists need a staggering 173 times as much energy to produce.

The number-crunching analysts at NCPA calculate that, at one trip per week to the supermarket, it would take a shopper three years of toting their reusable cotton bags before they achieved energy neutrality with plastic bags.

Some shoppers would use a reusable cotton bag weekly for three years but it wouldn't be advisable. That's because repeated use of reusable grocery bags increases the risk of exposure to such harmful bacteria as E. coli and coliform.

In fact, a well-publicized study found that food-borne illness in San Francisco County increased 46 percent after a bag ban went into effect back in 2007. Meanwhile, there was no similar spike in neighboring counties without a ban.

The San Clemente City Council made the right call against a bag ban in 2011 and 2012 and should do so now.