Josephine Miller hands out bags at the Downtown Farmers' Market on Wednesday. (photo by Kevin Herrera)

CITYWIDE — For perhaps the first time in Santa Monica’s history, City Hall will officially push forward a policy to redistribute wealth, but not of the dollars and cents variety.

A new municipal program, called “Share a Bag,” launched at Wednesday’s Downtown Farmers’ Market with a simple hope that Santa Monicans with a surplus of reusable bags will drop them off at designated bins and those that need them will get a chance to pick one up.

It’s very similar to a proposed bike-share program, whereby citizens can borrow a municipal bicycle under the assumption that they will return it to a designated location once they’re done with it.

This program has even fewer restrictions, relying instead on an honor-code approach that if you take a bag, you’ll hopefully drop one off later, and if you have a collection at home, you’ll see your way to parting with some.

“It’s not about requirements, it’s about generosity,” said Josephine Miller, who promotes eco-friendly practices through the city’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment.

Miller, who had success slaying the specter of Styrofoam containers in the city, got the idea for the program from an attorney-friend, who admitted to having a stash of nearly 60 reusable bags in a closet.

In a green city like Santa Monica, more people like that must exist, and could be convinced to donate their surplus to the cause, Miller reasoned.

The approach would promote reuse, and it might help Santa Monicans who don’t rely on reusable bags for their daily needs adjust to the full-stop on single-use plastic bags that City Hall will enforce come September.

Although the ban, approved in November 2010, has technically been in place since March, City Hall granted a six-month grace period to let stores burn through their stockpiles of plastic bags and give residents a chance to practice their sustainable habits.

The ban will prohibit single-use plastic bags from almost all retail locations in city limits, including the Farmers’ Markets.

The markets will also prohibit paper bags for everything except the sale of mushrooms, Miller said.

With September looming large, City Hall is putting the pedal to the metal on the $20,000 bag-sharing campaign.

The Office of Sustainability and the Environment purchased thousands of reusable bags through a program that employs disabled veterans to sew them.

Each bag is made of the same material that form military medical backpacks, meaning they’re durable, washable and will stand the test of time.

They also come with an inner pouch that the entire bag can be tucked into for convenience.

The ability to create a supply of free bags helps address issues raised by community stakeholders about the bag ban, namely that the poor and elderly would have a difficult time affording reusable bags, said Andrew Basmajian with City Hall’s Environmental Programs Division.

“Some people felt that purchasing them was prohibitively expensive,” Basmajian said. “We want to meet as many needs in the community as possible.”

Bags will be spread out at 17 locations across Santa Monica including the four Farmers’ Markets that take place in the city each week, 10 retail locations that specialize in reselling used items, the Ambassador’s Desk on Third Street Promenade, the Chamber of Commerce and the City Hall help desk.

Angela Lund, the owner of Baby Daze Boutique, a consignment store for baby clothing and other items, said her customers have been taking advantage of the new bags.

“I think it’s a great, fantastic idea,” Lund said. “It’s definitely working in my store, although I do have a great client base that’s very aware of the environment.”

So far, several of the 25 bags have gone out the door, and two have come back in.

Miller hopes that a more fluid exchange of bags will become the norm after more people learn about the program.

“It’s like any new habit,” she said. “We’ll see in a couple of weeks if it takes.”

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