San Carlos Considers a Ban on Styrofoam and Plastic Bags.

February 15, 2012


Ban in the Works.

By now  you've probably heard or read that the City Council of San Carlos is seriously considering banning the use of polystyrene foam (aka Styrofoam) containers, as well as the use of plastic bags for all businesses within the city limits.   The ban will seek to eliminate the use of those Styrofoam containers that are used for restaurant take-out (or the venerable doggie bag), and other food-related purposes.  And those ubiquitous plastic bags that we've all grown so accustomed to at the grocery store or the drug store may also be history if the Council decides to go down this path, which is looking more and more likely.

From the discussions that have taken place during the Council meetings, along with comments that have been made in the press, it seems like it's not a matter of if a ban will be enacted, but more like how and when it will take place.  What remains to be decided are the specifics.   According to this article in the Daily Journal, the City may opt to create its own ordinance or dovetail into a similar ordinance in the works with San Mateo County.

Either way it goes, it's probably not a bad idea.

Environment Outweighs Convenience.

The plastic bags in question are the featherweight ones that inevitably end up blowing all around town on windy days if they're not disposed of properly.   And since Recology does not recycle Styrofoam, both of these products end up becoming a major element of our landfill.  Since neither of these decompose very quickly, they'll still be in the landfill long after you and I (and our take-out food) have long left the planet.   And that's not a good thing.

The inconvenience of such a ban should be minimal.  Many restaurants (like Chipotle) already use a compostable paper-based container for take-out (even the aluminum lid is recyclable).   And between the reusable grocery bags that you see at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and the classic paper bags that can be re-used and recycled, the loss of the plastic bag should be a non-event.

What Do You Think?

Although it seems like a city-wide ban is likely, several members of the City Council want to gather more input from the public.  So on that note, what do you think about possibly banning Styrofoam and plastic bags from the City of San Carlos?    Vote in the new poll at the top of the site, and register your comments below…

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  1. Melanie Yunk on February 15, 2012 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks for the post, Chuck! I saw the news in the City’s email the other day and thought – YAY!!! It’s about time! After all, San Carlos strives to be green and we are one of the greenest cities in the country – even winning an award from Yahoo!

    Why wouldn’t we outlaw those plastic bags? No one knows what to do with them… they can be returned to some stores for recycling, but does anyone ever return them? I still have the last plastic bags I received in a store – squished into a cloth bag in my laundry room.

    As you said, lots of options are available for reusable grocery bags and compostable take-out containers – I say, “there’s no excuse.”

    In fact, I stopped buying coffee from places that use black plastic lids on their cups, since they’re not recyclable – perhaps we should consider a ban on black plastic too! (Look out, Trader Joe’s, that means you too!)


  2. Gunther on February 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    I don’t see what the problem is. The plastic bags get recycled in the bin every week along with newspapers and recycled grocery paper bags and cardboard boxes. This is a classic case of a solution looking for a problem. City Council needs to focus on other more important issues besides creating dog poop athletic fields and plastic bag ordinances.

  3. Michael on February 18, 2012 at 1:06 am

    Gunther, I think the problem is with all styrofoam containers and plastic bags that don’t end up in the recycling bins. People use them for so many things and in addition either just toss them or don’t always recycle them, so they end up in the landfill and in many cases go down the sewers and end up in the bay killing marine life.

    I am by no means a tree-hugger, but I think it is a genuine concern. Years ago, we got along fine without them, so I think we can all get used to alternatives again.

  4. Melanie Yunk on February 18, 2012 at 5:34 am

    Hello Gunther,

    TGIF! I saw your post and just had to comment. Recology does not recycle plastic bags of any kind. If you’re putting them into your recycle bin, the bags end up in the landfill. The proper thing to do is to bring them back to the grocery store and place them in the recycle bin – or better yet – don’t use them in the first place!

    Here’s the list of what you can – and cannot recycle – check the No list and you’ll see paper bags.

    Have a great weekend!


  5. Chuck Gillooley on February 24, 2012 at 3:28 am

    Here is a response that came in from San Carlos Vice Mayor and City Council Member Matt Grocott — reprinted with permission:


    Good blog piece and I am glad you posted it, however, you fail to mention that to receive a paper bag at the grocery store, the recommended proposal is to charge the customer ten cents per bag and the store has t okeep a record of how many bags they sell each month and report it to the government.

    I have talked with people who live in SJ, where this has been instituted, and it causes a slow down at the check out line because the checker cannot complete your transaction until the bagger has bagged all your groceries. By the way, most of the ‘plastic’ bags in grocery stores are not plastic but a biodegradable material; they make up about .4% of the landfill material.

    Matt Grocott
    Vice Mayor
    City of San Carlos

  6. Jillian Cariola on March 1, 2012 at 10:22 am

    I definitely think that using paper bags is a good idea; we can all do well with a little change in lifestyle. If you think that paper bags are not convenient enough, how about just using reusable bags? We all need to do our part, and we have to start somewhere.

  7. Chuck Gillooley on March 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm


    Thanks for your comment. Using re-usable bags is a great idea (ala Trader Joes). One idea to make this option affordable for everyone is allow encourage businesses to advertise their business on the side of the bags in a tasteful way — this would help promote the “Shop San Carlos” theme that the Chamber of Commerce is behind,and would help defray the cost of the bags.

    Just a thought…

  8. Jillian Cariola on March 2, 2012 at 7:51 am

    That’s actually not a bad idea. In fact, a lot of grocery stores over here are doing just that, and other businesses are catching on. In an effort to really push reusable bags, some groceries are even charging people for plastic bags (kind of like a penalty), just to remind them to bring reusables next time. I wonder what Mr. Grocott will say about this…

  9. Melanie Yunk on March 2, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    Correction: Just noticed that I said “paper bags” are on the NO list – I meant to say plastic bags are on the that list

    Fortunately, paper bags can be composted.

  10. Olaf Domis on March 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Hi – Just stumbled upon this conversation after watching a fascinating and scary movie about the effects of plastic on us and our environment. It changed the way I viewed the plastics industry. Movie is called Bag It. It will air on KQED April 26, and is also available on Netflix streaming. It frames the plastic bag debate nicely.

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