South Lake Tahoe says no to plastic bags


By Kathryn Reed

If you like plastic bags, then load up on them now because on Jan. 15 retailers will no longer be allowed to use them in South Lake Tahoe.

On a 3-2 vote Oct. 1, the City Council agreed to ban single-use plastic bags that are given out at the cash register. Councilmembers Tom Davis and JoAnn Conner cast the dissenting votes.

With the passage on Tuesday, this brings the number of municipalities in California with such a ban to 89. (Santa Barbara passed a ban on Oct. 1, too.)

It was in October 2009 that the city’s Sustainability Commission first started talking about the plastic bag ban. Several meetings focused on that topic, with tons of community input.

Since the council disbanded the commission a group of concerned citizens has continued the quest to have the city ban the bags. Part of the reason is to eliminate an item that most people only use once, to keep the product out of landfills, to stop the production of a product that uses tons of petroleum, and to make the city an environmental leader.

Davis, in all seriousness, said the city is already an environmental leader because of its bike paths and public transportation.

Davis, as he has said at multiple meetings, also said plastic bags are not a problem.

“You’ve gotta show me it’s a local problem,” Davis said. “If there are 8 million bags (in South Lake Tahoe used each year) and you only picked up 275 (on Coastal Cleanup Day), I would say that is not a problem.”

To this Councilman Hal Cole said, “Even if all the bags are off the street, they are in a landfill and that’s a problem.” A stat from the meeting is that 5 percent of what is in landfills is plastic. “They measure by weight. That’s a lot of plastic,” Cole added.

It’s not like plastic bags have always been a part of daily life. They arrived at grocery stores as an alternative to paper in 1977. From there department stores started using them.

Assuming the council on Oct. 15 at the second reading of the ordinance approves the ban, the first stores that must get rid of their plastic bags are grocery stores. That happens Jan. 15. Then on Oct. 15, 2014, all other retail entities must eliminate their plastic.

Produce bags and bags from the meat department will be allowed. Nonprofits will be able to use plastic bags. For example, each Monday at Bread & Broth people are given a plastic bag full of food to take with them. Pharmacies are also exempt from the regulation.

Retailers, if they want, will be able to charge whatever they want for paper bags. Many cities have imposed a mandatory fee for paper as a way to incentivize people to bring reusable bags with them.

Cole was adamant this was a fee or another tax. Such an imposition here was going to be a deal breaker for him.

When the 5-cent fee that had been recommended was stricken from the ordinance, Cole was able to vote for it.

Other towns, like Aspen, have used the bag fee to fund outreach – including buying reusable bags for people; while giving a percentage of the funds to the retailer. Aspen has a 20-cent fee that has raised $44,826 since May 2012, according to the Aspen Times.

Five of the eight people who spoke at the Oct. 1 South Tahoe meeting were in favor of the ban, including Jim Warlow who owns Cork & More. The nine emails the council received regarding the bag ban were all in favor of the ordinance.


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Comments (37)
  1. 5% haha says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Good work south Lake Tahoe you made a great leap nowhere. 5% of landfills is plastic and you think all of that is little plastic bags? Not coke bottles, milk jugs, kids toys and everything else we use that is made from solid plastic. Come on people. Many Bay Area towns did this years ago and it changed nothing.

  2. John S says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    So there might be a partial ban (might)…let me mention this…if you are against plastic bags you are free to not use them. Also people will use more paper bags which requires more trees (yes I know that paper decomposes)

  3. MTT says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Some more retarded meddling.

  4. Chief Slowroller says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Hal and the Team blunder again

    what are all those folks going to use to pick up there Dog Poop ?

    now they will just not pick it up and leave it in the street or your yard or at the Beach

  5. jenny says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Awesome! Great to hear plastic is out
    I hope people give more thought to bringing cloth bags.

  6. Greg says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Great Job SLT – We need to show leadership in this area.

    I have been using reusable bags for sometime now and it amazes me that not that more people living in an environmentally sensitive area don’t seem to care, its not that hard.

    Shame on you Tom Davis and JoAnn Conner for not supporting this.

  7. Outdoorsyguy says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Way to go Hal and everyone who voted for the ban. Tahoe Basin residents should take pride in being leaders for environmental responsibility, and this is a huge step in the right direction. It’ll take some time for people to get used to supplying their own reusable bags (and washing them on a regular basis), but the health of the planet is worth it. And hopefully, the staggering number of animals that die every year from ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic waste will decline significantly.

  8. MTT says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    I look forward to the day when you have check points at State-line and the Y stopping the tourists to make sure they are not sneaking in any contraband, you know plastic bags.

  9. Steve says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    For those who like and responsibly re-use and recycle plastic bags, another reason aside from lower sales taxes to shop in Nevada.

  10. TahoeLocal says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Comments have been made in the past about it not being government’s job to regulate personal choices. I agree in principle. However, consider citizens’ personal choices have been regulated on these basic freedoms for starters:

    Smoking and tobacco laws in indoor spaces.
    Minimum age to buy tobacco products.
    Prescription and non-prescription drug control (notice that antihistamines and many other OTC drugs were moved behind the counter, because people were misusing them?)
    Motor vehicle laws — most specifically speed maximums.
    Anti-littering laws.
    Marriage, driving and drinking age minimums.
    Mandate of hands-free devices while driving.
    Ban of 2-stroke gas engines on some waterways and in Yellowstone (snowmobiles)
    Animal and noise ordinances.
    Glass on the beach.
    Hours of use for public spaces and parks.
    Fishing limits.

    These all limit our personal choices, but seem to be have been enacted in the name of health and safety and for the betterment of living in an organized community and for controlling and maximizing our limited resources.

    This ban would be for the health and safety of our environment, which is beneficial for everyone who lives on the planet now and future generations.

    I think the ban might be painful at first, but will be a distant memory in years to come, and our planet will be better off as a result.

  11. A.B. says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    How does this decision help create jobs and improve the economy in the basin?

  12. Mary Ellen says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Congratulations SLT, and good job Hal, Brooke, and Angela for supporting the progress on reducing plastics. This is a nice step for South Lake to take.

  13. DM says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    This is great. Thank you council for taking such a progressive stance. These are the things that make me proud to live in Tahoe. We can walk the walk and talk the talk.

  14. tahoeadvocate says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    This is not a city issue, just another intrusion into your daily life by local government.
    Safeway at Round Hill becomes likely to benefit.

  15. Laura says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    I reuse plastic bags to line my small wet garbage container under the sink prior to weekly garbage pick up. Will I now have to BUY plastic bags to line this container? I put my bags to good use, don’t toss them into the environment. What’s a good substitute?

  16. TahoeKaren says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    My husband and I also use these plastic grocery bags as boot liners. Keeps your feet warm and dry while blowing snow. Good thing I have a pretty good supply.
    I have been reusing my paper bags and I have a few reusable cloth bags as well. Please remember to wash your reusable bags once in a while to cut down on germs.
    Some of the stores already offer reusable bags with their logo on them. Most are for a small fee. Perhaps the city can come up with a bag with the city logo on it for free to those who want one or two.
    Just a thought :-)

  17. worldcycle says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    No one has said a word about kitty litter. Great, now I have to go purchase a product that even if biodegradable has still used up resources for production and packaging to put my Scoop Away in. Same goes for my small trash can liners, dirty clothes bags while traveling and litter bags for my car.

    We are an environmental leader because of our bike paths and transportation system? Paths that dead end in neighborhoods with no directions out. A bus system that only services perhaps %15 of our municipality. Well said Davis. Obviously you do not use them.

    YEA Tahoe Karen! Lets see if this takes hold. What a souvenier from Tahoe. Make em sturdy and charge a fortune for them. The tourists will eat them up. Better get on it City, more friendly than a parking ticket. Some entrepreneur will beat them to the punch I am sure.

  18. tahoedad says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Thank you council members Swanson, Laine and Cole for responding to the wishes of the community and voting to take this step for the environment.

    In terms of how this helps with the economy and jobs, A.B., I’d like to see this move combined with a “Shop Tahoe” campaign, to keep our dollars local, reduce the environmental impact of driving over the hill, and reinforce in tourists’ minds that Tahoe is special and worth supporting in every way possible. Joining with cities along the Tahoe tourist corridor that have voted to get the plastic out will create a positive affiliation for these visitors. I think the positive economic potential far outweighs those who will now drive to NV and spend a bunch of extra gas money to avoid bringing their own bag along (or getting a paper bag, whether free or for a nickel).

  19. Arod says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    We must be stewards of the Earth. Getting rid of anything plastic is a step in the right direction. Don’t forget about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch the size of Texas floating around. It kills animals and pollutes the ocean floor with minute particles of plastic that may never totally degrade. The petty, selfish reasons for continued use of plastic bags are just that. Environmental laws are in place to protect us all.

  20. sunriser2 says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    So now the fanatics will move on to regulating how much toilet paper I can use.

    How can I get the job with the plastic bag police department? I need early retirement.

  21. Buck says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Is the city going to quit buying the blue recycle bags for STR at the tune of $50,000 per year? Each one of those blue bags must equal 20 grocery bags and they go directly to the land fill. Think smarter not harder.

  22. Gus says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    I never liked plastic bags but I especially don’t like small minded local government do gooders mandating which products I must and mustn’t use. Again, I don’t like plastic bags but I hear that Lira’s in Meyers will still be using them, as will the Roundhill Safeway. Vote with your feet people!

  23. Squawllywood says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    I don’t use the plastic bags anyway, can’t stand them.

    That being said, if you charge me for a bag, I won’t shop at your establishment out of principle.

    I am all for freedom of choice. Obviously the government solution to a problem that does not exist is the underlying problem here.

  24. Shenja Lanz says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    As a local who grew up in Meyers I would like to remind mr Davis that providing transportation to places outside the basin and not to Meyers is not viewed to me as a good transportation system… More like a corrupt one.. As for the plastic bag ban .. I guess it’s a nice thought but do we really need to vote on and regulate such a thing… I would hope that any environmentally pro thinking person would use and dispose of plastic bags properly… And yes ” use” .. I think they have more than one use and can be recycled… Let’s have our government concentrate on some more important issues… Please!

  25. tahoe Pizza Eater says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    I don’t think this ban represents what this community needs. This idea that we need to protect the environment is in your imaginations. These bags don’t pose a threat to the environment. I vote no, for the same reasons Tom Davis stated. And I know from what I read earlier this year, there are a lot of people who feel the same as I do.

  26. Tahoe Mom says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    I am SO proud of our City Council for passing this. It is a no-brainer. If you need plastic bags for your cat and dog poop, your feet when you blow snow, and whatever thing YOU chose to use a completely non-renewable resource for, then use the plastic bags that cereal, bread, crackers, frozen vegetables, tater tots and almost every other food comes in. There are still the free/subsidized small blue or orange bags in dog parks. We don’t need to trash our international treasure here to clean up after our pets or keep our tootsies warm. Get creative and celebrate that Tahoe is now more in line with many of the bay area cities that send heaps of tourists here. Excellent work, South Lake Tahoe!!!!

  27. dumbfounded says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    I see the ban on plastic bags being enforced with that giant SWAT vehicle that the City has now… Balanced budget? Is that before or after the new fire chief, the SWAT vehicle and the snowplow tax?

    BTW, the plastic bag ban will not affect Lira’s, come on out to Meyers and shop!

  28. Gavin says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Excellent job Angela, Brooke, and Hal! This ordinance shows true leadership in Sustainability.

    We are joining over 80 other jurisdictions in California in limiting plastic bags in the environment and landfill; and leading the region. Less than 5% of plastic bags are recycled and the landfill numbers are by WEIGHT. Plastic bags weigh very little so that is a lot of bags. Around 8 million are given out each year in South Lake.

    Let’s just hope Truckee passes their own plastic bag ordinance in the coming months!

  29. hmmm... says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    All good arguments against this heard and considered….and still I want to say “it’s about frickin’ time.” It will inconvenience many of us-myself included but I wholeheartedly agree with it. Those of you who don’t like it or see it as a ‘government intrusion into your personal lives’ need to get your heads out of ‘you know where’…the fumes are making you unable to think clearly. If you don’t like it move to Mississippi.

  30. Mary Ellen says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Next let’s try to reduce plastic bottle use – I would say this is an bigger environmental problem than plastic bags, but plastic bags are a good start. Partially agree with the comment on the Blue Bag program – I love that we have this recycling program, but the blue bags are probably creating quite a bit of waste themselves. The alternative of driving a separate truck around to pick up recycling, though, might have just as much of an environmental impact.

  31. cosa pescado says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    “Is the city going to quit buying the blue recycle bags for STR at the tune of $50,000 per year? Each one of those blue bags must equal 20 grocery bags and they go directly to the land fill. Think smarter not harder

    Do they?
    So they fill up bags with recyclables, and don’t recycle the bags?
    Anyone know if this guy is full of it?

  32. Joby says - Posted: October 2, 2013

    Really? Our council is actually taking up issues such as this with all of the problems we face, absolutely absurd! Why would anyone want to actually take part in a leadership position when this is the ridiculous priority that valuable time is spent. If you don’t want to use a plastic bag use reusable bags. We have converted motels, being considered low income housing, a local economy that is nonexistent, parking meters that deter and rip off visitors. Our local garbage company mandated to a blue bag system, when we already have a material recycling center. I am disgusted, to say the least!

  33. kayo says - Posted: October 3, 2013

    Great job South Lake Tahoe!!! Special thanks to Angela, Brooke and Hal for understanding the greater picture – it’s not just about what is in SLT’s waterways and streets, it’s about us being a part of doing something that has greater impacts for our environments and those who work at the factories that produce the bags. An estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year-380 billion of those in the U.S.
    Yes our community faces many challenges – and passing this ordinance is a step forward in saying WE CARE!

  34. J says - Posted: October 5, 2013

    I’m for the ban. I’m just unsure what I’m going to use for the little garbage cans in my bathroomS :-)

  35. Arod says - Posted: October 19, 2013

    I just watched some of the meeting video. Conner sounds like the president of the local flat earth society. She does not acknowledge the damage plastic bags cause. She brings up non issues as cleanliness of reusables. I wonder if she believes climate change is real.

  36. Moral Hazard says - Posted: October 19, 2013

    J that is the point. Most of us do reuse bags and since we don’t live near the ocean, there are much bigger issues, single use water bottle being one. It does however make sense for communities near oceans to ban them.