A year after San Jose approved its Bring Your Own Bag ordinance; the City has released its initial findings on the plastic bag ban’s effectiveness. And the city is trumpeting the program as a success.

Among the justifications for the declaration of success, the City had assigned resources to evaluate the impact that the first year had on the use of plastic bags, their prevalence in trash processing facilities, and related water-borne pollution. The resulting data showed a significant reduction in bag-related waste.

According to a staff report, California Waste Solutions, which handles the waste from much of the city’s single-family residential properties, saw a 24 percent reduction in in retail plastic bags. Green Waste Recovery, which handles recycling from multi-family residences saw a drop of 10 to 15 percent.

Additionally, city staff performed field pollution studies, comparing creeks, storm drains, and other water bodies for signs of change. Using standard distances and times, the City found some areas had experienced plastic bag pollution reductions of 50 to 60 percent. On average, storm drain catch basins dropped from 3.6 bags per year to just .4 bags per year.

The drop in plastic bags escaping into the community begins at the stores, where the plastic bag ban and $.10 charge for reusable, recycled paper bags have encouraged shoppers to choose to bring their own bags or walk out with products un-bagged. While watching consumer behavior at various locations in the city for an hour each, observers saw an increase of reusable bags. In 2010, before the BYOB ordinance took effect, just 3.6 percent of bags were reusable. Now, they account for more than 62 percent of bags. Customers forgoing bags entirely is now more than twice as common.

Based upon the success with the bag ordinance, the City is exploring the forced eradication of Styrofoam containers for take out food service. That topic will be broached after the start of the New Year.

You can read more details on the Bring Your Own Bag ordinance at the City of San José’s website.