Five years after Sonoma County and the city of Santa Rosa banned single-use plastic bags at local supermarkets and stores, the much-maligned plastic bag is making a comeback — and reviving some familiar problems. The new breed of plastic bag, introduced a little more than two years ago, is marketed as a thicker, sturdier sack that can be reused dozens of times, and also is recyclable.
But Sonoma County’s dominant waste hauler doesn’t accept the bag in its recycling stream in part because they jam up its machines. Increasingly, they are ending up in the landfill — resurrecting a problem that the county’s ban and the subsequent statewide prohibition on single-use plastic bags were meant to address.
Fred Stemmler, general manager at Sonoma Marin Recology, the area’s largest waste hauler, said there is still a long way to go to break the public’s dependence on plastics. “There are certain progresses that have happened but you are essentially having seven decades of use that you have to contend with,” Stemmler said. “Bags are only one component because our overall reliance on plastic products is still growing.”
Compounding the problem, waste experts say, is a decline in statewide recycling rates, which have dropped from 50 percent of all waste discarded by Californians in 2014 to 44 percent in 2016, according to the most recent report by CalRecycle, the state’s solid waste agency.
To meet the statewide recycling goal of 75 percent of waste by 2020, a mark set by outgoing Gov. Jerry Brown last month, more than half of the solid waste currently being tossed out would need to be recycled, reduced or composted, the report stated.
Separately, the state has moved to curb the use of plastic straws, with a new law starting this year that restricts restaurants from giving customers plastic straws unless they ask for one.