Paper Instead of Plastic for San Francisco
Posted by Harriet Steinberg on Apr 1, 2007 - 12:55:00 PM

SAN FRANCISCO - San Francisco is the first city in the nation to outlaw non-recyclable plastic bags from use in supermarkets, drugstores and other large retailers.

   By a 10-1 vote, the Board of Supervisors required the use of recyclable bags. It is felt that other cities will follow San Francisco in this action.
   It has been estimated that 180 million plastic bags have been thrown into the ocean killing marine life and clogging landfills.
   The Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance, written by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and Co., sponsored by six other supervisors, gives major supermarket chains with more than $2 million in annual sales six months to make the switch to biodegradable bags. Pharmacies and retailers with at least five locations have one year. Violators face fines of up to $500.
   At a news conference, Mirkarimi handed out canvas shopping bags that read “SF Environment: Our Home. Our City. Our Planet.”
   Advocates say biodegradable bags are stronger than conventional plastic bags.
   Several countries have enacted similar bans. Ireland imposed a plastic bag tax. There are other cities nationwide that are interested in following San Francisco.
   A typical plastic bag costs under a penny to produce. Paper bags cost about 5 cents apiece. The newer biodegradable bags which is made from potato starch, each cost 4 to 8 cents. The question is: who will pay the extra cost---the consumers or business? The answer seems to be “Business as usual.” However, it is said that business automatically passes the extra cost on to customers.
   At the Whole Foods store in San Francisco, shoppers applauded the board’s vote. Many shoppers are going along with this new rule and are applauding it. They are happy that they can help save the planet, especially when they think that changing the type of bags they use, when shopping, is such an easy thing to do.
   In San Francisco, the city’s largest supermarket dispense 125 million plastic bags a year which account for 1,400 tons of landfill waste annually. This takes generations to break down.
   Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) sponsored a state law that requires retailers to promote recycling with visible in-store recycling bins, reusable bags and education campaigns. The law goes into effect this summer. He said the San Francisco ordinance takes his law one step further.
   For years, grocery stores were not interested in getting rid of their plastic bags. Mirkarimi pledged to ban plastic bags when he was elected to the board in 2005. That year, supervisors, led by Mirkarimi, proposed a 17 cent tax on every plastic bag. Stores finally decided to voluntarily cut back in the use of plastic bags.
   Mirkarimi said that San Francisco was among the first city to ban smoking in parks. He also praised his city by stating that San Francisco legalized same sex marriage and banned hand guns. This was his way to encourage the grocery industry to curtail the use of plastic bags and use biodegradable ones instead.