PicturePhoto courtesy Change.org.

Two months after the Mill Valley City Council approved a plastic bag ban for all 13 stores that sell food within city limits, those stores are getting ready for the city to begin enforcing the new law on Jan. 1.

The ordinance, which was approved Oct. 21 and went into effect Nov. 21, prohibits the distribution of single-use disposable bags at 13 grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores in Mill Valley, and requires those stores to charge a five-cent fee per paper bag it distributes to customers. 

Here’s a list of the stores:

  • Whole Foods (Miller Ave.)
  • Whole Foods (East Blithedale Ave.)
  • Safeway (Camino Alto)
  • Mill Valley Market
  • CVS
  • Rite Aid
  • 7-Eleven (Miller Ave.)
  • Jolly King
  • Grand Gasoline (Ashford Ave)
  • Miller Avenue Chevron (448 Miller Ave.)
  • Arco (Redwood Hwy. Frontage Rd.)
  • Xtra Oil Co. (340 Miller Ave.)
Although several grocery stores have already implemented the law, the ordinance called for a 60-day grace period for stores to get in compliance. But rather than starting enforcement Dec. 21, city officials decided to allow the grace period to continue through the holiday season, particularly to allow stores more time to update their cash registers and point of sale software to establish the five-cent fee. The ordinance allows each store to spend the money collected in fees “for any lawful purpose.”

City officials said that encouraging the use of reusable bags is one example of the programs being implemented to work toward the city’s “Zero Waste” goal whereby no materials are landfilled, but instead fully recycled, repaired or reused by the year 2025.

The city’s plastic bag ban ordinance largely mirrors that of the County of Marin, which was approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors in January 2011. Cities eager to follow the county’s lead in 2011 were stymied by a lawsuit filed by Save the Plastic Bag Coalition arguing that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by passing the ban without completing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) first. Several cities, including Mill Valley, put their proposed plastic bag bans on hold until the lawsuit was resolved.

A Marin Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the county in 2012, and the coalition appealed the case. In June 2013, the California First District Court of Appeals upheld the Superior Court decision, paving the way for other communities to take on the issue without the threat of a lawsuit.

The plastic bag ban does not apply to product bags (e.g., bags for meats or produce) or bags provided to a customer for prescription medication. Customers may use any type of bag that they bring to the store themselves, according to the law.

The Mill Valley City Council agreed to revisit the law within six months, with a particular eye on raising the five-cent fee for paper bags.

“Five cents in an affluent town like ours doesn’t do squat for behavior change,” then Vice-mayor Shawn Marshall said in August.

The 411: Download the City Council staff report and the final adopted ordinance. Email Senior Planner Danielle Staude with questions at dstaude@cityofmillvalley.org.

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