Letter To The Editor: Inspector Bag-it To Enforce Ban

Los Alamos

I am Inspector Bag-it! I wish to be the County’s new inspector for the plastic bag ban. I am anxiously awaiting the Council’s final decision.

I am hopeful that they will ignore the citizen surveys and the recommendation made by the Economic Sustainability Board. I promise to enforce the ordinance and vow to make sure that all businesses and citizens are in compliance. Let me remind you that without enforcement, we will likely not see compliance.

For example, Seattle Public Utilities has not been given enough resources to enforce their bag ban. In fact, the Department acknowledges that they don’t have the manpower or the inclination to fine everyone in violation. Their bag ban inspectors mostly check dumpsters for recyclables and yard waste. Therefore, they have to rely on the citizens to report violations. Customer complaints alert them to the businesses in violation of the bag ban. On its website, Seattle Public Utilities asks people to call with concerns about stores using banned plastic bags.     

Likewise, Honolulu doesn’t have enough inspectors to go from business to business to check on compliance. City officials agree that the biggest challenge with the new ban is enforcement. “It’s more of a self-policing, so annually they would have to turn in the compliance form to us. If we don’t receive them, of course we’ll go out and ask them for the form. Then the public, if we receive complaints, then we’re going to have to go ahead and enforce,” said Lori Kahikina, director of the Department of Environmental Services.

Problem is: disgruntled citizens are reluctant to report their favorite stores, particularly the Mom and Pops, to the city government. When I am in charge, we will not have to rely on citizens for enforcement!

More about the Mom and Pops. I will especially be watching them! Many small businesses have complained that the plastic bag ban put large retailers at an unfair advantage over them. Large retailers can easily absorb the administrative cost incurred by the collection and reporting of the paper bag fee. Mom and Pops cannot afford to waste time on duties that do nothing to improve customer service and quality of goods.  

Further, small retailers cannot get the big volume discounts for the purchase of paper and reusable bags. Indeed, “When there’s a new fee here and a new fee there, plus a new regulation here and a new regulation there, it can add up to a lot of money, especially for a small business trying to make rent at the end of the month,” said Sheri Sakamoto, president of the Honolulu-based Retail Merchants of Hawaii.

Let me be clear! My job will be to enforce the plastic bag ban, not to monitor for shoplifting! Nationwide, shoplifting has increased in areas with plastic bag bans. “Across the United States we have seen these bag bans, and the shoplifting has always had a substantial leap,” said Jan Gee, president of the Washington Food Industry Association. In Los Angeles, police officers say that reusable bags enable criminals to walk off with goods. But of course! Before the ban, a customer putting store items into their own bag would have been a red flag. Now that everyone is doing that, it’s harder to keep track.  

Attention all retail stores! Here is my six-step plan (modeled after Alameda County, Calif.) I promise to take my job seriously. I will also be watching you, citizens of Los Alamos!

  • I will see to it that you have kept complete and accurate records for the number of paper bags and reusable bags purchased and sold each month.
  • I will notify you seven days in advance of my on-site inspection during regular business hours. You must charge for the correct number of paper bags! I will see to it that you aren’t giving a special discount or coupon to make up for the cost of the paper bag.
  • I will specifically check your monthly registration and remittance forms. I will verify the number of bags purchased, with the number of bags provided. All business invoices should be available for my scrutiny!
  • If I find incomplete or false records and documents, you will be in violation of the Ordinance! You will receive a notice of violation, with a demand for the $500 fine. Fines are not to exceed $750 for the second violation within one year, and not to exceed $1,000 for each violation within one year.
  • A hearing will only be conducted if it is requested within 30 days of receiving the notice of violation. Please note that fines must be paid within 30 days of the notice of violation and must be deposited prior to any requested hearing. If evidence proves that no violation occurred, then the amount of the fine shall be refunded, minus a 50 percent service fee. My time is valuable! 
  • Be warned!  In any enforcement action, the County shall be entitled to recover its attorneys’ fees and costs from any Person who violates this Ordinance. If I am hired as your new bag ban inspector, I will be available for on-site observations of stores before the ordinance goes into effect.  Then I will be able to determine the number of reusable bags, prior to and after than plastic bag ban!   

Direct questions to Shin at inspector@bagtheban.com.


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