Following the lead of San Jose, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors took a big step forward Monday in making more of the Bay Area bagless.

The board approved an ordinance that bans plastic bags and most single-use paper bags in the county’s unincorporated areas by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Mike Wasserman as the sole dissenter.

Supervisor Liz Kniss said she hopes the ordinance will encourage people to switch to reusable bags. “This isn’t very difficult,” Kniss said. “I think the biggest challenge is changing our culture, changing our habits.”

The ban will affect about 56 retailers but will exclude restaurants and nonprofit and social organizations. Businesses will still be allowed to use plastic bags for items including fresh produce, meat, frozen foods, prepared foods, bakery items, plants, prescription drugs and newspapers.

Retailers can sell customers single-use paper bags that are 100 percent recyclable and contain a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer waste at a cost of 15 cents each.

Supervisor Ken Yeager proposed the idea for the ordinance a little more than two years ago.

“I know we’ve all been waiting a long time for this,” he said.
Wasserman opposed the ordinance, saying that plastic bags are a small aspect of the overall pollution problem and that the ordinance does not effectively tackle that problem.

“We have an ordinance that excludes many, many things,” he said.

The ban, which will take effect on Jan. 1, is part of an effort to reduce the prevalence of single-use bags, which proponents of the ban say litter roadsides, clog drainage systems, pollute local creeks and streams and harm wildlife.