Don't act surprised, San Jose. Your days of toting home everything from groceries to auto parts to doggy toys to lingerie in the beleaguered plastic shopping bag are numbered.
Josefina Miranda -- and just about anyone else who's frequented a retailer recently in the city -- has had plenty of warning. For weeks, the signs above the check-out stands at her local Mi Pueblo Foods, along with announcements from the store's P.A. system, have reminded shoppers: On Jan. 1, a new San Jose law kicks in that bans single-use plastic shopping bags.
And unlike the growing collection of plastic bag bans in other cities, San Jose's is not just at grocery stores. The city's ban includes 5,000 or so retailers, from Best Buy to Big 5 Sporting Goods, Fry's Electronics to Frederick's of Hollywood, Petco to Party City.
But San Jose's rules don't stop with plastic: Customers who want to haul their goods home in bags made of 40 percent recycled paper will have to pay 10 cents a sack. If they don't already have reusable bags, they can purchase them -- in a variety of materials -- starting a $1.
"At first, it might be difficult," Miranda acknowledged last week as she pushed a cart piled with yellow plastic shopping bags packed with items for her family's traditional holiday dinner.
"But we are going to adapt. If it's a good thing for the environment, then we can all help."
It's been a long time coming.
In 2009, the San Jose City Council voted to ban most plastic bags, which environmentalists say foul waterways, clog landfills and threaten wildlife, as well as paper bags. Critics say paper bags require massive amounts of greenhouse gases to produce.
Final version of ban
In January, the council signed off on the final version -- one that went further than others by requiring all retailers to adhere to the ban, exempting only restaurants and nonprofits. "Protective" plastic or paper bags, without handles, for items such as meat, fresh produce, prescription medication or merchandise that could contaminate other food or goods are allowed, however.
The city's environmental services staff has spent the past two years spreading the news to retailers, and recently provided them with display cards and posters to herald the change.
"We wanted some time to work with businesses and give them a chance to get ready," said Kerrie Romanow, the city's acting environmental services director. "Not just, 'Hey, you have a month's notice -- here you go.' "
San Jose's new law isn't just the broadest in the Bay Area -- because it bans plastic and charges for paper -- but it covers the greatest number of retailers in California, said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, a 50-year-old nonprofit that works to protect and preserve San Francisco Bay. Romanow believes that San Jose is the largest city in the U.S. to have such a ban.
"All you need to know is that San Jose is the leader on this,'' said Lewis. "This should be the model for other cities in the Bay Area and around the country.''
But plenty of shoppers are already grumbling.
"I really don't like it, and my wife is unhappy with it," Jim Laflin, a retired project manager and senior inspector, said last week while leaving Orchard Supply Hardware with a plastic bag filled with pipe fittings. He said the couple like the convenience of plastic bags. And like others, he said he's never sure how many bags he'll need when he goes shopping.
"It's a big bother to get the (reusable) bags" and remember to put them in the car.
To help show their support, some retailers are offering their own incentives. Safeway, for example, plans to give away one free reusable bag per customer, while supplies last at their San Jose stores.
CVS/pharmacy stores, meanwhile, reward customers who buy their reusable GreenBagTag.