Burlingame is one of a dozen San Mateo County cities that celebrated Earth Day by implementing plastic bag bans.
Grocery stores, retail shops and pharmacies in 12 Peninsula cities and unincorporated areas throughout San Mateo County will no longer use plastic bags as of Monday, county Director of Environmental Health Dean Peterson said.
"The Bay is getting a very important present for Earth Day," Peterson said.
The move to recyclable or reusable bags is seen as an environmental win for San Mateo County, where an estimated 550 million plastic bags are handed out by retailers every year, Peterson said. "That comes down to about 500 bags per person per year," he said.
Many of the bags end up as litter, clogging creeks, storm drains and waterways that flow into the San Francisco Bay, he said.
Daly City Vice Mayor David Canepa said public works agencies are typically stuck with the job of clearing drains of plastic bags, or picking them up at parks and public beaches.
"Who has to clean up all these bags? We do," said Canepa, who introduced his city's bag ban in January. "So the taxpayer wins because the city is always stuck with cleaning them up," he said.
The complete list of cities implementing new bans are Belmont, Brisbane, Burlingame, Colma, Daly City, Foster City, Half Moon Bay, Menlo Park, Pacifica, Portola Valley, San Bruno and South San Francisco, according to the county.
Four other cities -- East Palo Alto, Redwood City, San Carlos and San Mateo -- have similar bans in the works.
Millbrae already has a plastic bag ban in place.
Canepa said the transition to reusable bags in his community seems to be going off without a hitch. "I just went to Trader Joe's, it seems seamless for now," he said. "People are adjusted."
Customers who don't bring their own reusable bags will be charged at least a 10-cent fee for a paper or recyclable bag. The fee will rise to 25 cents in 2015.
Businesses that are exempt from the ban are non-profit retail businesses like Goodwill, and restaurants with take-out business, which will still be permitted to package to-go food in plastic bags, Peterson said.
There are a few other exemptions, including protective bags for produce, dry-cleaning and newspapers.
Peterson said other communities that have implemented reusable bag ordinances have seen little resistance from the public. "Most people have been supportive, and many have wondered why we haven't done this already," he said.
More information on San Mateo County's plastic bag ban can be found online.
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