Reusable_BagtargetWhat exactly is a “reusable” bag? Why does it matter? Watsonville City Council voted to amend its 2012 plastic shopping bag ban with a new definition for reusable bags.  Starting on April 24, stores that choose to sell or give away non-woven plastic reusable shopping bags will be required to provide bags that are at least 4 mils thick.

The goal of the City’s 2012 plastic bag ordinance was to eliminate single-use plastic shopping bags, which were one-half of a mil in thickness. (A mil is a measure of plastic thickness).  The 2012 ordinance defined non-woven reusable plastic shopping bags as those 2.25 mils or greater in thickness. At check-out stands in some stores, 2.25 mil thick plastic shopping were being sold or given in large numbers. While in compliance with the 2012 ordinance, these 2.25 mil bags too closely resembled the old single-use plastic bags and did not trigger the desired response among shoppers to use the bag over and over. Surveys found that shoppers were not bringing store-provided 2.25 mil plastic bags back to the store for reuse. The new ordinance aims to address this issue.

The new definition of  “reusable bag.” The amended ordinance requires that reusable bags made from non-woven plastic have a thickness of at least 4 mils. This type of bag is clearly a durable product.  Other types of reusable bags that are still allowed for sale or free include those of any thickness made of woven material including cotton and plastic-based fiber. Due to the material and design, these bags all send the desired signals to the shopper to reuse them over and over. The new reusable bag definition only applies to non-woven plastic shopping bags a store may choose to give away or sell. Shoppers may bring any type of shopping bag they wish to the store.

Stores are not required by the City ordinance to provide shopping bags at the checkout stand, but if they do, it must be a paper bag made from 40% post-consumer recycled content. They may choose to sell or give away reusable bags that meet the new ordinance definition. Stores are required to charge $.25 for the paper bags. The bag fee is not a taxable item. Stores may provide free plastic bags at the checkout stand only for wet items such as ice cream and meat.

Watsonville is the first city in California to redefine reusable bags with the 4 mil thickness definition in an effort to ensure success of its single-use plastic bag ban. Watsonville’s amended plastic bag ban sets a new, higher bar in the effort to encourage shoppers to adopt a new habit. Neighboring cities and the County of Santa Cruz also restrict plastic shopping bags and several are considering following Watsonville’s lead to discourage the use of the 2.25 mil bag.

The plastic shopping bag ban was passed to enhance and protect our local environment.  Plastic bags are dangerous when they become litter. Wind and rain carry them into our wetlands or into storm drains. All of the waterways in Watsonville, including wetlands, creeks and the Pajaro River flow into the Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Plastic bags are mistaken as food by birds, fish, sea turtles and other marine life. Plastic litter is also unsightly. The City and many volunteers spend time and resources removing plastic bags, Styrofoam and other litter from our streets, parks and trails. Residents may find that the minor inconvenience of remembering to take shopping bags to the store is worth the cleaner and safer environment.

How to remember your shopping bags. Some shoppers struggle to remember their reusable bags. A system that works for many people is to place the empty reusable bags at the front door, next to the car keys or even on the door knob after unloading the groceries. The very next trip to the car is time to place the bags in the car where they will be ready for future shopping trips. Once the new system becomes a habit, forgetting the reusable bags will be history!

Some residents were using the single-use shopping bags for trash can liners. Without the free single use bags, they reluctantly buy trash bags. An alternative would be to save the bags that come into the home from pet food, paper towels and other large items. Another alternative to reduce the need for plastic trash bags is to compost most food scrapes, thereby reducing the amount and moisture content of the material in the trash can. Garbage that needs to be bagged includes kitty litter, Styrofoam peanuts and other small items that might fall from the trash cart.  Bread bags, produce bags and bags from chips and popcorn can serve this purpose.

You can download the Amendment to the plastic bag Ordinance here.

For additional information or questions regarding the “new” definition of “reusable” bag, call Nancy Lockwood, Environmental Projects Manger at 768-3103.