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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Bring your own bag or pay up

Uploaded: Jan 31, 2012

The crusaders at Alameda County's waste management board continue to insert their regulations into our daily lives.
This is the outfit that convinced the Pleasanton City Council to mandate the three-can program to ensure that the city meets the agency's goal of recycling 75 percent of its trash. It doesn't matter than three passes from three garbage trucks costs consumers more—policymakers consider it necessary.
It also doesn't matter that the county has two large landfill operations that have plenty of space, particularly now that about half of what once went there as waste now is diverted.
The board's latest maneuver is to ban plastic bags from supermarkets and other retailers that aren't in the fast food business. The ban is part of the effort to reduce materials going to the landfill to 90 percent of what typically went there and to recycle any "easily recyclable" materials.
So next year, when you run to the store for eggs, milk and bananas, better remember to bring your own bag or the store must charge you a dime for a paper bag. The once ubiquitous plastic bags will be no more.
A dime certainly is not going to break the budget, but there are two principals at play here:
1. Why—other than to feel green—is it important to divert 90 percent of waste? The waste authority set the goal itself—no state mandate here. And, certainly, there's nothing wrong with being smart about recycling and being a good steward, but having government arbitrarily set a goal without any regard to economics (as it true with most regulators) is just wrong.
I suspect it also has to do with making sure the agency has something to do. Simply declaring a victory because more than half of the waste stream is diverted would put the agency and its bureaucrats out of business. When was the last time you saw any level of government go out of business?
The waste board is another one of these county and multi-county boards made up of elected officials from cities and counties. In this case, Dublin Councilman Don Biddle and Pleasanton Councilman Matt Sullivan are local reps—newly elected Councilwoman Laureen Turner represents Livermore, not that you could tell from the agency web site still lists Jeff Williams as the rep. He didn't stand for re-election.
2. Why is the government mandating private enterprises what type of services to offer to their clients and customers? Retailers have been moving aggressively to reduce their costs by offering incentives to customers to bring their own bags (Incidentally, I never have won a Trader Joe's drawing). There was no need for intervention, but messing in the private sector in hopes of meeting goal.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Jan 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Good riddance to the plastic bag. You forgot the bags that don't end up in the land fill but blow across the country.

Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger, a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School,
on Jan 31, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

We switched to canvas years ago; they hold just as much and are stronger. We also use mesh produce bags. Not a fan of additional regulation, but if we can't be more conscientious consumers on our own, what is plan b? It's not likely that a grocery store can opt to stop providing bags altogether (and why should Trader Joe's give anyone a prize?), even if they were a conscientious green company. I suppose the agencies could run big ads on tv to change our behavior, perhaps with a Native American standing by the freeway with a tear in his eye as trash blows around the landscape. Oh, wait . . .

Posted by Becky Dennis, a resident of Foxborough Estates,
on Jan 31, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Becky Dennis is a registered user.

For anyone who wonders where the goal of 75% solid waste reduction came from, the correct answer is: The voters of Alameda County. Back in 1990 the voters passed (by a big majority too) a Sierra Club authored initiative, Measure D, which required a 75% reduction of solid waste going to county landfills by a certain date. It also enacted a $6/ton landfill tipping fee to fund county recycling programs, and it established an additional County Recycling Agency as well. Here's a link to the text of Measure D. Web Link

As a City Council member, I had the opportunity to serve as Board President of both agencies. It was one of my most interesting duties. I really enjoyed my nine years of talking trash, though that may have been genetic, since I come from a long line of successful scrap dealers. The challenge of doing the people's will involves a meticulous weighing and analysis of what people throw away, as well as the equivalent of an annual dumpster dive by agency staff at our local landfills. This information was then used to design grant programs that targeted categories of waste that make up the biggest portions of the waste stream.

As I recall, plastic bags (and actually plastics in general) are particularly difficult to recycle, since bags of even slightly different compositions cannot be mixed without making the plastic totally unuseable. If our waste agencies are willing to take the heat for requiring a ban on free plastic bags, I conclude that a) no one was able to design an effective recycling program for plastic bags and b) we are burying tons of them every day.

Love or hate the ban on plastic bags, we have no one to hold accountable but ourselves!

Posted by Casanova_Frankenstein, a resident of Old Towne,
on Apr 21, 2012 at 11:39 am

Casanova_Frankenstein is a registered user.

I don't think you're paying attention to what Tim is saying here, amigos. It's not that there aren't good reasons or solid answers, it's that he hasn't looked for them and doesn't want to understand them.

Remember, Tim's a JOURNALIST, which means he does his due diligence and attributes his information in a thorough and ethical manner. Some examples of his sources for this post: "I suspect," "why," and many good, hearty generalizations. Thrown in is a little truthiness and that good old, "I know in my heart that stuff these young people do today is wrong because it ain't how I was brought up" wisdom. Now THAT'S reporting!

Thanks, Pleasanton Weekly, for consistently raising the bar.'s got nothing on this site.

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