Avoiding a lawsuit

There’s a better way to regulate plastic bags

Turns out there’s a big chuckhole in the road to passage of an ordinance banning most plastic carry-out bags in Chico—a hole big enough to stop a vote on the ordinance for at least a month, and perhaps much longer.

At its last meeting, on April 16, the City Council was ready to take up such an ordinance, but City Attorney Lori Barker requested it be put off for a month. A group calling itself Save the Plastic Bag—you gotta love the name—was threatening to sue the city if it passed the measure. Its attorney had flooded Barker’s office with more than 800 pages of documents, and she needed time to study them.

You can guess where Save the Plastic Bag gets its money. A threat to sue from an outfit backed by the deep-pocketed plastic-bag industry has to be taken seriously.

There’s an easy solution to this problem. Instead of prohibiting retailers from handing out plastic bags, require them to charge customers a dime for each bag—just as the ordinance proposes for paper bags. In the absence of an outright ban, Save the Plastic Bag will no longer have a case.

The city’s goal, after all, is to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags and to decrease the huge number of bags, both plastic and paper, now going out of stores. As several citizens testified during the initial public hearing on the issue, a small fee would in almost all cases be sufficient to encourage people to remember to bring their reusable bags.

Such an ordinance would be less coercive than an outright ban, give shoppers more options, and be easier to implement. It would also avoid a potentially expensive lawsuit. The council should give it serious consideration.