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A proposed ban that would keep most retail outlets from using plastic bags to pack customer purchases was passed unanimously Wednesday by the City Council's Rules and Economic Development Committee.
Still needed, an environmental review and a tweaking of the language of the proposed law by the City Attorney's Office, so it might not reach the full City Council for adoption for nine months to one year from now, according to staff.
Eliminating the wispy thin bags is a major priority for environmentalists, who contend they scatter across beaches and get into the ocean, where they harm marine life. Also, 95 percent end up in landfills, taking up valuable space.
The ordinance would ban plastic bags at most stores, mandate a 10 cent per bag charge for customers who ask for paper bags, and require shopkeepers to maintain records for three years.
Plastic bags could still be used for meat, produce and prescription medications. Also, the restrictions would not apply to charities, large non-food retailers like Home Depot and customers who participate in government food programs.
Committee Chairwoman Sherri Lightner said she wants to see the ban adopted and reviewed one or two years later, after which the largest retailers could be made to comply.
She said "simply hoping" that more people will return plastic bags to retailers for recycling is no longer good enough.
"Our canyons, waterways, storm drain systems, streets and landfills deserve better," Lightner said.
10News reported that the Encinitas-based Equinox Center released a report which concludes the proposed ordinance would reduce the number of bags used in the city of San Diego by 70 percent.
The center found that 500 million of the bags are used in San Diego annually, and 350 million fewer would be used if the proposed ordinance was adopted.
The executive director of the center, Lani Lutar, supports a bag ban.
The Equinox Center report found that neither retailers nor consumers suffered significant economic damage in the jurisdictions around the state where bans are in effect.
Some costs went up for stores as customers opted for paper bags, but the center suggested most patrons will make the transition to reusable bags. Customers shelled out $7.70 to buy reusable bags in cities where a ban went into effect, but those costs should go away because they can be used for years, according to the report.
Shopper Vendric Barnes said, "If you have a bag at home, you might as well bring that; save plastic bags."
Shopper Larry Harris told 10News, "That sucks. I think I'll take the free ones. I can't afford to buy them."
According to a 10News/U-T San Diego poll released in September, results show many people are not in favor of a ban.