Belmont could become the first city in San Mateo County to implement a ban on plastic bags after the City Council discussed the issue at its meeting Tuesday night.
The item was presented by Green Advisory Committee member and Belmont resident Michael Swire, who told the City Council at its meeting Tuesday night the city should work toward banning plastic bags.
Swire, who has been on the Green Advisory Committee for nearly two years, said Belmont can follow in the footsteps of San Jose, Palo Alto and San Francisco as other local communities that have banned the bags.
So far no other cities in San Mateo County have implemented a plastic bag ban.
The committee is suggesting the ban be imposed on all single-use plastic bags, that a fee be charged to retailers who provide single-use paper bags to customers and that all paper bags be made of 40 percent recycled content.
Council members were receptive to the idea, and suggested the issue be placed under the purview of the city attorney's office in order to explore its legality and how it could be implemented.
The plastic bag ban was addressed by council members as part of forming their annual priorities during their meeting.
Swire, who stood before council members with a gaggle of plastic bags in one hand and one reusable bag in the other, said the city and its retailers stand to save money should the ban be approved.
The savings to residents is shown through savings to retailers that would no longer purcase plastic bags, therefore passing that cost-savings along to consumers, said Swire.
The city will save money in garbage and recycling rates, because the city's garbage company cannot process the bags, and most residents who collect bags put them in their own trash rather than take them to the designated recycling bin at Safeway, he said.
Beyond the economic savings, the city can eliminate its contribution to the pollution issues caused by plastic bags that are not disposed of properly, said Swire.
He also said the city can cut down on the blight caused by loose bags, and that the ban would show the city's commitment to marine wildlife, which are threatened by bags that pollute the ocean.
The Green Advisory Committee advises the city's Community Development department on issues pertaining to the environment, and how to implement more green practices.
Swire said many members of the community support the ban. He presented online petitions with nearly 100 signatures, about 30 of which are Belmont residents, and a Facebook group also with about 30 members, both of which are dedicated to supporting the plastic bag ban.
He also provided council members with letters from environmental advocacy groups including Save The Bay, Clean Water Action, Plastic Pollution Coalition and a local chapter of the Sierra Club that support the ban as well.
"This is an opportunity for Belmont to take a huge step forward for the environment," said Swire.
The Green Advisory Committee has not discussed how the ban could be enforced, but other communities that have banned the bags haven't had difficulties with compliance, said Swire.
Mayor Coralin Feierbach suggested the city follow the groundwork laid by San Jose in implementing the ban, but also said the idea needs to be legally scrubbed by the city attorney's office.
Swire said he hoped the city could implement the ban sometime in the next year, but allow several months to phase it in through local businesses.
The ban could also stimulate business for reusable bag manufacturers, some of which are based in the Bay Area, Swire said.
Swire said he would hope other local communities, including San Carlos, Redwood City and San Mateo, would eventually consider a similar ban as well.