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Paper or Plastic?


Sonoma County Waste Management
Wants your Feedback on Carry-out Bags

by Patrick Carter

Sonoma County Waste Management Agency Holds Stakeholder and Community Feedback Forums on Carryout  Bag Reduction Efforts

Feedback Will Help Determine What Restrictions Will Be Imposed On Paper And Plastic Carry-out bags

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency (SCWMA) wants your feedback on what is to be done about paper and plastic carryout bags (the bags given for free at the checkout counter). To hear from as many businesses and citizens as possible, the SCWMA is hosting nine public meetings to present what actions are under consideration and to receive feedback. Interested parties are welcome to attend any or all of the meetings; there is no RSVP needed.

The SCWMA has been tracking legislation regarding carryout bags for over 4 years and since no significant statewide legislation to reduce litter and waste of these items has been adopted, the SCWMA is taking steps to act locally. While feedback has been received that there is general support for action on this issue, the SCWMA now wants to receive specific feedback from those who may be affected by carryout bag restrictions. 

Why Carryout  Bags:

In Sonoma County, paper and plastic carryout bag use is estimated at nearly

300 million bags per year, mainly plastic carryout bags – about 1.5 bags per Sonoma County resident per day. Even when placed in proper bins for disposal or recycling, carryout bags, especially those made of plastic, can become airborne. From there they often become litter or get entangled with landfill and recycling center equipment, requiring costly equipment repairs or work stoppage to clear the entanglement.

The Ocean Conservancy’s “Tracking Trash – 25 Year of Action for the Ocean” report found that plastic bags were the sixth most common debris item collected worldwide over the past 25 years. In 2010, plastic bags were the third most common debris item collected, which suggests plastic bag litter is increasing. The report describes wildlife entanglements observed during the events, and in 2010, plastic bags accounted for over 15% of the observed entanglements.

Paper or Plastic?:

Most discussions about single-use carryout bags involve the question of which is better for the environment, paper or plastic. According to the Green Cities California Master Environmental Assessment on the subject of carryout bags, paper bags generally have fewer environmental impacts in some respects (e.g. aesthetics, biological resources) and greater impacts in others (e.g. air quality, water consumption, and mineral resources) when compared to plastic bags. However, in all areas where significant data existed, the MEA found that reusable bags were associated with fewer negative environmental impacts than paper, plastic, and compostable plastic carryout bags.

How do we facilitate a widespread consumer shift from disposable, single-use bags to reusable bags? The SCWMA hopes to hear your answers at the outreach meetings. Email comments are also welcome at


Outreach Dates and Locations: All Meeting Start at 6 pm

March 12 – Petaluma Veterans Memorial, 1094 Petaluma Blvd S., Petaluma

March 13 – Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial, 1351 Maple Avenue, Santa Rosa

March 14 – Sonoma Veterans Memorial, 126 First Street West, Sonoma

March 19 – Cotati Veterans Memorial, 8505 Park Avenue, Cotati

March 20 – Cloverdale Veterans Memorial, 205 West First Street Cloverdale

March 22 – Windsor Community Center, Elsbree Hall, 901 Adele Drive, Windsor

March 23 – Rohnert Park Community Center, 5401 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park

March 26 – Villa Chanticleer Annex, 1248 N. Fitch Mountain Road, Healdsburg

March 27 – Sebastopol Masonic Center, 373 N. Main Street, Sebastopol


Question? Comments?

Patrick Carter




About the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency:

Sonoma County Waste ManagementThe SCWMA, formed in 1992, is the joint powers authority of Cotati, Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, Windsor and the unincorporated County. Its mission is diversion (as required by state law AB939) of household hazardous waste, composting and wood waste, as well as customer education and planning. Funding for its programs is derived from a surcharge on garbage delivered to county refuse disposal sites. Visit the SCWMA’s website at


Dear Patrick Carter,

I just yesterday saw the notice about the Sonoma County proposal to ban plastic bags. I strongly support the proposed ban. While I cannot attend the Santa Rosa meeting this evening, I would like to point out several considerations. First, plastic bag bans are taking off across California and around the country. Last month, the San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted to make it illegal for any shop in the city to offer disposable plastic bags to customers. The law also mandates stores charge customers 10 cents apiece for paper bags. The San Francisco legislation will require all retail outlets to stop distributing single-use plastic bags. Starting in 2013, the ban will apply to restaurants as well. Reusable bags will remain legal.

I see that even cities in Texas are banning plastic bags. This is an idea whose time has come. Second, this ban will reduce litter. Plastic bags often end up as litter on the streets or creeks, as trash, or as a nuisance in our waste processing system. Third, plastic bags increasingly are finding their ways into waterways and eventually the ocean where they cause great havoc. It may be some small inconvenience to carry cloth bags to the store, but by now most people already have these – as they are often distributed for free or at low cost. In the long run, this action of banning plastic bags will make our city and county cleaner and more healthy. This is surely the right thing to do and I urge you to do all that you can to pass the ban.

Fred Krueger
Santa Rosa

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