Santa Clara City Council Passes Bag Ban

English: A sign in Santa Clara, California pro...
A sign in Santa Clara, California proclaims the city’s status as an All-America City in 2001. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 19 August 2014, the Santa Clara City Council, by a unanimous vote, passed an Ordinance to prohibit the distribution of single-use carry-out bags including the approval and Adoption of a Negative Declaration pursuant with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  The latter document declared that the bag ban will not result in a significant environmental impact.

Similar to ordinances passed by other cities, the proposed ordinance would ban the distribution of plastic carryout bags at point of sale beginning 1 December 2014.  Retailers may also make paper bags or reusable bags (Cloth or thick plastic bags) available for sale at a minimum fee of 10 cents.  In addition, customers who participate in WIC or SNAP (Food Stamp Programs) are eligible to receive one or more paper bags at NO COST.  The fees collected by the retail establishment are to be retained by the retailer and are meant to pay for the cost of implementing the ordinance (i.e. the cost of paper bags provided to customers paying the paper bag fee and the cost of free paper bags received by WIC and SNAP participants.) (van Leeuwen, Plastic Bag Ban Creates New Welfare Benefit, 2013)  A retail establishment is subject to a fine for each occurrence where it provides a customer a plastic carryout bag not meeting the requirements of a reusable bag at the point of sale for the purpose of carrying purchases home.

The following letter was sent to the Santa Clara City Council from Stop the Bag Ban Citizen’s Group and is reprinted verbatim with permission.  The letter makes a number of important points and raises important issues that should have been discussed and addressed by the council.  The letter has been formatted for publication as part of this blog article.  Brackets “[]” denote corrections by the editor of this blog.

Dear Mayor and City Council of Santa Clara:

 This letter is to implore you NOT to impose a bag ban on your citizens against their will and without cause.  Please resist the false and misleading claims of those pushing a ban, and respect your citizens and businesses to make their own bag decisions.  Please consider the following:


Nowhere in the arguments for a bag ban has there been clear evidence and statistics as to any type of plastic bag problem in Santa Clara. People claim that bags are picked up during cleanup days, which is true, but virtually EVERY other form of trash is also picked up. The fact that some are picked up (along with the other trash) is insufficient to impose a complete city-wide bag ban on everyone! Candy wrappers, Starbucks cups, newspapers, tires, and mattresses are also picked up. Are those being banned?

 Furthermore, I drive through Santa Clara often for work, lunch, or shopping. I have yet to see any bag problem. The vast majority of the time, I can drive clear across Santa Clara and NOT SEE A SINGLE PLASTIC GROCERY BAG! Can you show us where the bag problem is in Santa Clara?


Is the “cure” for this greatly exaggerated plastic bag problem to ban everyone from getting them? So now everyone must be punished for the bad mistakes of a few?


Can you explain any reason why newspaper bags are not being banned? Are they not a worse offender (being thrown down by the thousands in our streets and gutters, just feet from storm drains)? And are they not MUCH more easily resolved (the newspaper carriers need only deliver the newspaper to a doorstep or the good old fashioned mailbox tubes we used to have)?

Why should newspaper carriers be free to wrap newspapers in plastic bags every time it MAY rain during the day just because they are too lazy to do their job the way they used to, while you COMPLETELY BAN over 100,000 citizens from getting plastic grocery bags at the store? HOW DOES THAT MAKE ANY SENSE???


We have written several articles reviewing all of the claims of the “bag banners” and found virtually all of them to be false, vast exaggerations, or just plain misleading. Consider [responses to] some of the top ones you probably hear:

  • The “pacific garbage patch” is actually just small particles of hard-plastic in a certain region of the Pacific. NO PLASTIC BAGS are considered part of the “Pacific Garbage Patch”.
  • Likely, less than 1 in 10,000 or more plastic grocery bags are littered. Do 9,999 people have to suffer because 1 person litters?
  • There is NO WAY that every person uses 500 plastic grocery bags per year, as repeatedly claimed by bag banners. Just think about what that means for a family of 4: TWO THOUSAND per year. Really? Does anyone apply any reason to the claims?
  • The recycling rate for plastic grocery bags is low (less than 10%) because OVER 70% OF PLASTIC GROCERY BAGS ARE REUSED BY PEOPLE, therefore cannot be recycled in a typical recycling program. REUSE IS RECYCLING!!! It actually is the BEST form of recycling!


The bag banners think they are being so clever by making the paper bag fee a “minimum fee” collected by the stores, supposedly to offset store costs. But in reality it is just an OBVIOUS skirting of California Law that requires voter approval of new taxes.


Ever wonder why Safeway and the California Grocers Association jumped on board the bag bans? MONEY!!!

 You are considering MANDATING that your citizens pay 10 cents (going to 25 cents) for a product that costs less than 5 cents. That is 100% to 500% PROFIT going directly to the stores! What kind of a payoff scheme do you have going on here?


Do you know that NO city council has ever put a bag ban to a vote by the people? Bag banners will boast that 100 cities passed bag bans. That is incorrect. It is 100 CITY COUNCILS that have passed bag bans. Not a single citizen in California has voted for the bag ban and paper bag fee that you are considering. Why not?


Levi Stadium does not allow bags (or even large purses) inside. Thus, if citizens CAN NOT bring in reusable bags, then is your “minimum fee” now actually a TAX??? What choice does a citizen have?

Will you also enforce the bag ban rules on all of the visiting vendors at the Santa Clara Convention Center?

And are you expecting people to bring reusable bags to Great America, just in case they buy a stuffed animal?


As noted above, no problem has even been identified. And even if there were a plastic bag problem, why the paper bag fee? It is all about CONTROL. Is that the function of your city council? To control businesses and people in a manner in which they could choose to act if they wanted to? Think about it. NO BUSINESS IS FORCED TO PROVIDE PLASTIC BAGS, AND NO CITIZEN IS FORCED TO TAKE ONE today. So why don’t bag banners just “educate” the public and let us make the choice? Obviously, they think we are too stupid. Is that how you feel as well?

Even your own city flyer on the bag ban describes follow up to gauge the effect of the bag ban by taking “surveys” at stores to check citizen behavior. That is a CLEAR admission that this is all about behavior control, and not actually helping the environment. The amount of garbage in your creeks could double, but your city workers would still be out watching citizens exit the local Safeway and declaring a bag ban a big success!

 There are many more reasons why bag bans are wrong, but I know your time is limited. There is plenty of information available online that exposes bag bans and asks serious, thoughtful questions.

 The “Stop the Bag Ban” Citizen’s Group (with many members who are citizens in Santa Clara or who shop in Santa Clara) asks that you to do the following:

  • DO NOT force a bag ban on your citizens.

 Think about it: Santa Clara could be the FIRST city in California to ACTUALLY ASK THEIR CITIZENS if they want a bag ban! At the same time, you could make the 10 cent paper bag fee an official tax, collected by the city! You could use those millions of dollars per year that your citizens will now be spending on bags for programs such as real litter control and cleanup. Why wouldn’t you want to collect the money rather than having it just as a profit for the big grocery stores???

If you have ANY questions about bag bans, please visit our website or contact us. We are willing to meet with you to discuss your questions and explain our fierce opposition to bag bans. We are NOT litterers, nor are we paid off by any plastic industry. We are private citizens who see through this for what it really is: behavior control against our will for meaningless reasons. And we actually believe that plastic bag bans are WORSE for the environment than not having them. Please spend just a fraction of the time, cost, and effort that a bag ban takes on really doing something that helps the environment and DO NOT implement a bag ban.


 Don Williams
Stop the Bag Ban Citizen’s Group

Additional Comments

What is overlooked by the Santa Clara City Council is a cost/benefit analysis. What will it (1) cost the city to implement a bag ban, and (2) what will it cost residents to comply with the bag ban, and (3) what benefits will be derived from the ban and are those benefits reasonable compared to the cost incurred by all parties? (van Leeuwen, Plastic Bag Bans – A Community Could Do So Much Better & For So Much Less, 2014)

Also overlooked by the Santa Clara City Council is water consumption used to wash reusable bags. Public officials love to tell us that every drop of water saved counts, but then go ahead with imposing ordinances that require the use of reusable bags which must be washed or sanitized on a regular basis in order to be safely used. Washing bags requires the use of water which is in short supply due to the California’s drought. Think about it, is water conservation more important that ridding the state of plastic bags? (van Leeuwen, Plastic Bag Bans and California’s Drought, 2014)

Also, consider the findings by the Santa Clara City Council and our responses:

Finding: WHEREAS, single-use carry-out plastic bags contribute to problematic litter because of their lightweight nature, which allows them to be conveyed through the storm drain system into creeks and eventually the bay, where birds and other marine wildlife mistake plastic litter for food;

Response: Why not allow stores to distribute thicker plastic bags or paper bags at no charge to customers? The use of thicker plastic bags or paper bags will not result in a negative environmental impact that requires mitigation or the use of reusable bags. Furthermore, the thicker plastic bags are not as apt to become wind-blown litter like the thin film plastic bags and also do not require customers to use water and energy to wash and sanitize reusable bags. Using a ban to control litter is also the wrong solution. (van Leeuwen, Bag Bans: Wrong Way To Control Litter, 2013)

Finding: WHEREAS, single-use carry-out plastic bags comprised eight percent (8%) of trash transported via urban runoff into storm drains according to a study conducted from 2009 to 2012 by the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association;

Response: The installation of trash capture devices in storm drain inlets, catch basins, and outfalls will prevent trash including plastic bags from entering the creeks, riverbeds, and bays. These devices are required by the federal Clean Water Act for waterways where trash is shown to be a problem. The Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) is the program that installs these devices in storm drains. (van Leeuwen, Plastic Bag Bans – A Community Could Do So Much Better & For So Much Less, 2014)

Finding: WHEREAS, single-use carry-out plastic bags no longer have a recycling market and are being disposed of as residual in landfills;

Response: The finding is bogus for the following reasons:

  • It ignores the fact that plastic carryout bags are recycled by the In-store recycling bins at retail outlets that distribute plastic bags. This is totally separate from the companies that collect recyclable material via the curbside recycling bins. The latter sell the recycled material they process to make ends meet and processing of plastic film including plastic bags is not economical. Hence these companies send plastic film material to the landfill.
  • Furthermore, the finding ignores that the amount of plastic, paper, and reusable bags dumped in the landfill after a plastic bag ban is as much as four times more than the plastic bags dumped in the landfill before the ban. This is because most reusable bags are made from non-woven Polypropylene (PP) or fabrics such as cotton. Bags made from these materials are not recyclable due to the lack of a recycling infrastructure. At the end of life, these reusable bags will end up in the landfill. A typical reusable bag weighs as much as 30 thin-film plastic carryout bags! (van Leeuwen, Fact Sheet – Landfill Impacts LASBVTA, 2013)
  • Also, the finding ignores the fact that plastic carryout bags, after being used to transport groceries home, are reused in lieu of other plastic garbage bags to dispose of trash. This is actually an advantage to using plastic carryout bags, in that reuse increases resource efficiency. By eliminating these bags, people will purchase new plastic bags to line small trash cans and dispose of trash. The fact that most plastic carryout bags end up in the landfill filled with trash means that they cannot be recycled; hence the low recycling rate. (van Leeuwen, Plastic Bag Recycling Rate – A Non-Issue, 2013) (van Leeuwen, Plastic Bags In Landfill – Not a Problem , 2014)



van Leeuwen, A. (2013, September 10). Bag Bans: Wrong Way To Control Litter. Retrieved from Fight The Plastic Bag Ban:

van Leeuwen, A. (2013, April 16). Fact Sheet – Landfill Impacts LASBVTA. Retrieved from Fight The Plastic Bag Ban:

van Leeuwen, A. (2013, May 3). Plastic Bag Ban Creates New Welfare Benefit. Retrieved from Fight The Plastic Bag Ban:

van Leeuwen, A. (2013, November 23). Plastic Bag Recycling Rate – A Non-Issue. Retrieved from Fight The Plastic Bag Ban:

van Leeuwen, A. (2014, March 24). Plastic Bag Bans – A Community Could Do So Much Better & For So Much Less. Retrieved from Fight The Plastic Bag Ban:

van Leeuwen, A. (2014, February 14). Plastic Bag Bans and Californias Drought. Retrieved from Fight The Plastic Bag Ban:

van Leeuwen, A. (2014, March 14). Plastic Bags In Landfill – Not a Problem . Retrieved from Fight The Plastic Bag Ban:



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