MARTINEZ -- Martinez may join the growing list of California cities that ban plastic shopping bags and polystyrene foam food and drink containers.
Modeled in part on the ordinance Pittsburg adopted last month, city staffers have proposed prohibiting distribution of single-use plastic bags by commercial and retail businesses including grocery, liquor, clothing, convenience and book stores.
The proposal exempts restaurants, plastic garment bags and bags for fresh produce and meat at grocery stores. Retailers would be required to charge a minimum of 10 cents for each paper bag in the first year the ordinance is in effect, 15 cents in the second year and 25 cents after that. Food stamp recipients and shoppers with Women, Infant and Children vouchers would not have to pay for paper bags.
The fee is intended to encourage shoppers to carry reusable bags, said Tim Tucker, Martinez city engineer. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposal Wednesday. If council members agree to proceed with an ordinance, it could be introduced early next year.
Mayor Rob Schroder said the slew of plastic bags swirling on the shoulder of Interstate 680 and caught in the barbed wire fencing along the BART tracks along Highway 4 in eastern Contra Costa County convinced him that a ban is needed.
"I'm supportive of such an ordinance. However, I don't want to make it really complicated for businesses," Schroder said.
In an Oct. 30 letter, the California Grocers Association, a statewide trade group representing supermarkets convenience stores and large retailers, said it supports an approach combining a ban on plastic bags with a fee for paper bags.
"Grocery industry experience has shown this type of carryout bag ordinance maximizes environmental gain and minimizes impacts to businesses," the letter says.
Banning plastic bags and foam takeout containers will help Martinez meet the state requirement to reduce trash in the waterways by 70 percent by 2017, according to city staff.
Plastic bags and polystyrene foam are not biodegradable, instead the products break up into smaller pieces that contaminate soil and water. The high cost of cleaning up discarded polystyrene foam food containers from parks, waterways and streets is a burden on the city's finances, according to city staff.
Bans on single-use plastic shopping bags and foam takeout containers are spreading to communities across the Bay Area. Alameda County and San Pablo prohibit plastic bags, while Richmond and El Cerrito have banned both.
Although Walnut Creek city leaders also are considering banning plastic bags and foam food containers, Councilman Justin Wedel announced this week that he plans to place an initiative on the ballot to block an ordinance.
Schroder does not believe the proposed ordinance is meddlesome.
"If people are not going to recycle on their own we need to give them a little incentive," Schroder said. "I don't think it's too intrusive. I think it's OK for government to control behavior that affects other people, and that includes smoking and litter."
Lisa P. White covers Martinez and Pleasant Hill. Contact her at 925-943-8011. Follow her at Twitter.com/lisa_p_white.
What: Martinez City Council meeting
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday
Where: City Hall, 525 Henrietta St.
For more information, visit the city website at www.cityofmartinez.org.