Marin County and Santa Monica Ban Plastic Bags, Other California Regions Consider Similar Measures

By:  Shanna Foley Marin County has become one of a growing number of California cities and counties to ban plastic bags.  On January 25, 2011, Marin County passed an ordinance banning plastic bag distribution and requiring a fee of not less than five cents for paper papers at most grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores.[1]

Marin County’s ban is particularly exciting because Marin County chose not to prepare a Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), but instead is relying on CEQA’s categorical exemption for projects that have no environmental impact and are intended to benefit the environment.

In the past, Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, an advocacy group for the plastic bag  industry, have sued cities trying to pass similar ordinances, forcing them to prepare costly EIRs before implementing bag bans.  However, Marin County’s ordinance differs from ordinances that have been the subject to previous litigation because it regulates both plastic and paper bag distribution, largely negating the Coalition’s argument that the bag ban will have a harmful environmental impact by promoting paper bag use.

No lawsuit has yet been filed to challenge Marin County’s ordinance, but the attorney for the Plastic Bag Coalition has stated that such a lawsuit is likely.[2]

Santa Monica also passed its Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance on January 25, 2011.  The City’s ordinance bans the use of plastic bags at all retail establishments (with restaurants excepted) and requires retailers to charge a fee of at least ten cents for paper bags.[3] Santa Monica retailers distribute 26 million single-use carryout bags annually, and the City hopes the Ordinance will “promote a major shift towards reusable bags.”[4]

In response to Proposition 26, which imposed restrictions on the use of regulatory fees, Santa Monica made changes to its proposed ordinance prior to passage that allows the retailer to keep the proceeds obtained from the paper bag fee.[5]

Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which sued the City of Manhattan Beach over its plastic bag ordinance, has stated it will not sue over the Santa Monica ordinance.  The Coalition has stated it is pleased with the City’s Environmental Impact Review it completed prior to completion of the ban.[6]

Sonoma County is also considering a similar ordinance.  Sonoma County Supervisors held a public forum on February 2nd to discuss banning plastic bags.  The forum included representatives from the plastic bag industry but also numerous agencies that support bag ordinances, such as the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency, and representatives from Marin and San Francisco Counties.  The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency says it will continue its work with a group of 450 retailers for ideas on formulating a bag ordinance.[7]

Similarly, Daly City is considering a plastic bag ordinance.  City Councilmember David Canepa proposed an ordinance that would ban plastic bags at supermarkets and charge a ten cent fee for paper bags.[8] The proposal will be heard at the upcoming February 14th city council meeting.

[1] See Marin Approves Plastic Bag Ban, (Jan. 26, 2011)

[2] Id.

[3] See Ordinance Summary at

[4] See Santa Monica OSE – Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance

[5] City of Santa Monica, Analysis of Cost Pass-Through (Dec. 20, 2010)

[6] Parimal M. Rohit, No Plastic Bag Ban Lawsuit, Santa Monica Mirror (Feb. 1, 2011)

[7] Brett Wilkison, Paper? Plastic? Or None of the Above, Watch Sonoma County (Feb. 3, 2011)

[8] Daly City Councilman Seeks Plastic Grocery Bag Ban, ABC News (Jan. 30, 2011)

UncategorizedJennie Romer