Paper or plastic? Not anymore in San Francisco.
The city’s Board of Supervisors approved groundbreaking legislation Tuesday to outlaw plastic checkout bags at large supermarkets in about six months and large chain pharmacies in about a year.
The ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, is the first such law in any city in the United States and has been drawing global scrutiny this week.
“I am astounded and surprised by the worldwide attention,” Mirkarimi said. “Hopefully, other cities and other states will follow suit.”
Fifty years ago, plastic bags — starting first with the sandwich bag — were seen in the United States as a more sanitary and environmentally friendly alternative to the deforesting paper bag. Now an estimated 180 million plastic bags are distributed to shoppers each year in San Francisco. Made of filmy plastic, they are hard to recycle and easily blow into trees and waterways, where they are blamed for killing marine life. They also occupy much-needed landfill space.
Two years ago, San Francisco officials considered imposing a 17-cent tax on petroleum-based plastic bags before reaching a deal with the California Grocers Association. The agreement called for large supermarkets to reduce by 10 million the number of bags given to shoppers in 2006. The grocers association said it cut back by 7.6 million, but city officials called that figure unreliable and unverifiable because of poor data supplied by markets.
The dispute led to a renewed interest in outlawing the standard plastic bag, which Mirkarimi said Tuesday was a “relic of the past.” Under the legislation, which passed 10-1 in the first of two votes, large markets and pharmacies will have the option of using compostable bags made of corn starch or bags made of recyclable paper. San Francisco will join a number of countries, such as Ireland, that already have outlawed plastic bags or have levied a tax on them. Final passage of the legislation is expected at the board’s next scheduled meeting, and the mayor is expected to sign it.
The grocers association has warned that the new law will lead to higher prices for San Francisco shoppers.
I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse to know that I went to school with one of Supervisor Mirkarimi’s relatives. SF is a small world, and I guess we can all boast of one or two degrees of separation between any one of us and a SF silly person.