The Newspaper of the San Francisco Bay Chapter
September - October 2007
San Francisco and Oakland ban plastic bags
Even fashion industry joins in reducing waste
As of Nov. 20, major supermarkets in San Francisco will no longer be allowed to bag our groceries in petroleum-based plastic. Thanks to an ordinance sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and passed by the Board of Supervisors in April, the "free" bags at the checkout stands will be made either of recycled and recyclable paper or of "certified compostable plastic" materials such as corn or potato starch. In May 2008 the plastic-bag ban will extend to major pharmacies as well.
A similar measure was recently passed in Oakland, where Councilmembers Nancy Nadel and Jean Quan convinced their colleagues that banning plastic shopping bags is an important step toward reducing the amount of waste that goes to landfill and toward preventing plastic bags from polluting the environment.
Biodegradable bags are an improvement over oil-derived plastic for several reasons.
Biodegradable bags aren't a perfect solution. They don't degrade in cold seawater and therefore they pose some of the same threats as the oil-derived bags to wildlife; birds and various forms of aquatic life can mistake them for food or become entangled in them.
The only sustainable answer to the shopping bag question is reuse. Again and again. The challenge is to induce people to obtain durable bags, such as those made from canvas or jute, and to use and reuse them.
An obvious approach would be to end the gratis distribution of disposable bags of any kind. If customers had to pay for the bags they're given at checkout stands, they'd be much more likely to remember to bring their own. Instead, the cost of the "free" bags is passed on to all customers in the form of higher grocery costs, forcing those who bring their own bags to subsidize the shopping expenses of those who do not. In opposing the plastic bag bans, the California Grocers Association has warned that it will result in higher food prices, a disingenuous argument since it was the Grocers themselves who instigated a state-wide ban on charging people for the bags they take.
Since we can't charge people for disposable bags, what can we do to foster a BYOB mindset?
Last month more than 300 people waited in the rain outside a New Jersey Whole Foods market for a chance to spend $15 on a limited-edition canvas shopping bag. More than 500 lined up at Union Square in New York City. The coveted Anya Hindmarch-designed bags, sporting the words "I'm not a plastic bag," rose to about $250 each on eBay.
Hindmarch, who says that she herself used to throw plastic bags away until she realized what a waste it was, said, "We set out to create awareness. . . . Fashion does influence behavior. We can create this craze. Where we have the platform, that's what I do: I make things fashionable."
Reusable shopping bags are officially hip. Now if only we can make it chic to remember to use them.
© 2007 San Francisco Sierra Club Yodeler
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