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Update on Disposable Checkout Bag Ordinance

Update on Disposable Checkout Bag Ordinance


Update: The ordinance was adopted on Monday, May 6, 2013 by City Council (on Consent). Outreach materials and public notification will start during the week of
May 13, 2013. For questions, contact Public Works – Watershed Protection at 650.329.2598, or email at


Plastics account for 60% of the litter found in local creeks and a recent Scripps Institution of Oceanography study reports that the amount of plastic debris in an area of the Pacific Ocean known as the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" has grown a hundredfold over the past four decades. Local cities are required by the stormwater Municipal Regional Permit to reduce trash loadings to municipal storm sewer systems by 40% by 2014, 70% by 2017 and 100% by 2022.

Palo Alto adopted an ordinance restricting single-use plastic bags at large grocery which became effective on September 18, 2009 (Municipal Code 5.35, Ordinance 5032). This ordinance was a first step in addressing the negative impacts of plastic bags in the natural environment during a time when few community bans on plastic bags existed. In November 2009, staff promised to return at some point in the future with a recommendation of implementing a store charge for single-use paper bags (CMR:401:09).

Public Works Environmental Services released a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) assessing the potential, but unlikely, negative environmental impacts of expanding the City's current single-use plastic checkout bag ban to all retail and food service establishments, adding a store charge for retail paper checkout bag use and redefining standards for "reusable bag" to make them more durable and long-lasting. The goal of the ordinance is to increase the use of long-lasting reusable bags and decrease the use of single-use plastic and paper bags to reduce pollution in local creeks, in San Francisco Bay and in the marine environment.

Cities and counties throughout California have passed bans restricting plastic bags and most cities now also require a store charge for paper bags–usually ten to twenty-five cents for each bag. Twenty-four additional Peninsula cities are considering similar ordinances in 2013. Although large grocery stores in Palo Alto have complied with the City’s existing ordinance, plastic litter including plastic bags continues to be found in local creeks. Staff has conducted an annual survey of paper, plastic and reusable bag use at large grocery stores and pharmacies in Palo Alto since 2008. Although the percentage of customers using reusable bags increased from nine percent to 21 percent following implementation of the 2009 ordinance, that percentage has not continued to increase.

Timeline for Proposed Expansion of the Plastic Bag Restriction:


Project Milestones

June 2012

Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) released for public comment

July 11, 2012

Public comment due

November, 2012

Draft EIR and ordinance released for public comment

December, 2012

Public meetings

January 2, 2013

Public comments due for draft EIR

March 11, 2013

  • Council review of EIR
  • First ordinance reading
    • April 15, 2013
      6pm, City Council Chambers
      250 Hamilton Avenue
      Palo Alto, CA

      Click here to ensure that no last minute changes have been made and to review the staff report for this meeting.

       Revised ordinance (first reading on Consent)

      May 6, 2013            Ordinance adopted b Palo Alto City Council (on Consent)

      May - August, 2013

      Public Outreach

      July 1, 2013

      Ordinance effective date for retail

      November 1, 2013

      Ordinance effective date for food service establishments

      Final Environmental Impact Report with response to comments 
      Ordinance as Adopted (Ordinance number will be assigned prior to July 1, 2013). 
      City Manager Report (3065) March 11, 2013
      City Council Presentation March 11, 2013
      City Manager Report (3066) April 15, 2013
      City Manager Report (2888) June 18, 2012
      Current ordinance

      Palo Alto Weekly online article (June 2012)

      Bag It!
      Hold a movie screening! Invite your neighborhood, church, green team or service club to view this award-winning film which discusses how plastic bags impact our environment. Funny, inspirational and educational, this movie comes in 45 and 65 minute versions and is available for loan through Public Works - Watershed Protection Group. Email us to borrow a copy.

      More information:
      Californians Against Waste
      Save the Bay

      Project Manager
      Julie Weiss

      Last Updated: May 8, 2013