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San Francisco's Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance

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by Worldchanging SF local blogger, Holly Pearson:

This week the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance, which bans the use of plastic shopping bags by large supermarkets. The ordinance requires these grocery stores to use either compostable bags, made from corn starch or other vegetable-based materials and containing no petroleum products, or recyclable paper bags containing a minimum of 40 percent post-consumer recycled content.

The Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance is the first legislation of its kind in any U.S. city, although some countries have already banned or levied taxes on plastic shopping bags. Ireland, for example, has achieved a 90 percent reduction in plastic bag use since the enactment of its ban on the bags.

San Francisco’s ordinance will initially apply only to grocery stores within the limits of the City and County that have gross annual sales of $2 million or more. About six months after the law goes into effect, it will be extended to apply to large chain pharmacies as well.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment estimates that currently about 180 million plastic shopping bags are distributed in San Francisco each year. About 774,000 gallons of oil are used to produce this number of shopping bags.

A handy side benefit of the compostable bags is that they can be recycled in the City’s green food compost bins, which will hopefully make it more convenient and appealing for residents to compost their food scraps. (Incidentally, compostable bags are also available for sale at many local retailers. The San Francisco Department of Environment's compostable bags webpage gives a list of stores in San Francisco where you can purchase the bags).

The Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, is one of a number of initiatives intended to advance the City’s goal of diverting 75 percent of its solid waste from landfills by 2010.

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The Irish lied about the need for a bag tax and its consequences - but like much of the information on the environment, the information is never corrected - it simple becomes part of the urban mythology.

Plastic shopping bags perform a useful function. The so called 'degradable' bags have heaps od problems - as San Francisco will discover.

It is time politicians started to address the real issues - rather then simply pander to public ignorance.


Posted by: Gerard on 1 Apr 07

This initiative is fantastic. It seems that the true future of waste management is to address the source of waste, as opposed to strictly worrying about where we dispose of it.

Gerard: What consequences? - I can think of no negative consequences of this ordinance, except for a possible penny or two increase in the cost of bags. I also have no idea of the "public ignorance" you speak of. Waste management is a real issue, especially at the municipal level. Garbage is expensive, environmentally harmful, and causes constant political headaches for city government. San Francisco has the organic processing facility, why not make the switch to bags that can be sent there?

I can think of very few reasons why this by-law shouldn't be replicated continent wide.

Other than the plastic industry spokespeople, I have not heard from anyone not in favour of it.

Posted by: Adam on 2 Apr 07

For the record, the Supervisor who championed this legislation is a Green Party member and longtime Green Party activist. That fact will often not be noted in the news articles, which is understandable since it is a non-partisan office, but there are many other reasons that we third party activists know all too well.

If this was New Zealand, Canada or Germany, you bet the Green Party would be credited. In this country, mainly third parties are invisible in the corporate media, until the two corporate parties want to blame something on us. like the so-called "spoiler" Nader.

I want to make sure the Green Party gets a wee bit of credit for this and nudge you little g, greens, to come over to the Big G, Green Party, and help us build it and get more green legislations passed.

The Green Party aims to be the electoral arm of the green movement and we need you!

Posted by: Lisa on 2 Apr 07

I am Irish. I was there when we banned plastic bags. Literally overnight, 95% of the population of Ireland began using cloth/ sturdy plastic (reusable) bags, because we did not want to pay 10 cents (Euro) for each plastic bag normally incurred by shopping. It was a huge success, and to this day people wonder why the politicians danced around this issue for so long before finally legislating for what turned out to be a simple, elegant, efficient solution to a persistent problem. Plastic bags no longer adorn the hedgerows and fences around Ireland.

Gerard - an informed opinion is useful. A gripe is of use to no-one.

Posted by: Michele on 16 Apr 07



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