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San Francisco, CA Revised Plastic Bag Ban and Fee
In 2007, San Francisco was the first city to ban non-compostable plastic checkout bags in supermarket and pharmacy chains. Called the “Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance”, grocery stores were only allowed to provide recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags and/or reusable bags. The specific definitions of these bags are outlined in the 2007 Ordinance. Grocery stores or pharmacies that did not comply with the ordinance faced a $100 fine for a first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation and a fine not exceeding $500 for additional violations within the same year.
In 2012, San Francisco amended the 2007 "Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance" to extend the restrictions to all retail establishments and food establishments in the City. Although three types of checkout bags are still allowed under the updated ordinance, a 10-cent minimum charge is collected and kept by the stores to help offset the additional costs of providing acceptable bags. Customers taking food home from a sit-down restaurant are exempt from this fee. Starting October 2012, the ban will include all retail stores and all restaurants. The ordinance does not apply to customers purchasing bulk items (nuts, grains, and meat), prescription drugs, newspapers, and laundry or cleaning bags.
One of the main issues cities confront is how to reduce accumulated waste. Toxic chemicals derived from the degraded plastic can be released onto ground surfaces and into waterways. Even recycling programs can pose a problem since many do not automatically accommodate plastic bags. Plastic bag reduction programs present cities with the opportunity to reduce a very common waste product and set a foundation for future collaboration between residents and city agencies.
The city of San Francisco cited several key reasons for restructuring the existing bag ordinance, including:
- The growing litter problems in neighborhoods, parks and sewer systems
- Emphasis on decreasing ocean pollution and urban pollution (“urban tumbleweeds”)
As with most policies, San Francisco’s Plastic Bag Ban does not come without caveats. Local businesses and restaurants in Chinatown, the Tenderloin and Richmond are worried that the ban will drive away tourists who will not pay a 10-cent fee in a weak economy. Another issue is the idea that banning plastic bags leads to an increase in paper bag production. Despite the latter anxiety, it is the hope of the government that a 10-cent fee will remind residents and tourists to bring their own reusable bags and spread awareness of how plastic bags affect the landscape. Special attention has been given to seniors and low-income residents. Both groups can avoid all bag costs by bringing their own bags to the store. SF Environment will partner with grocers and local non-profit groups to hold reusable bag giveaways, and customers participating in the WIC or food stamp programs are exempt from the bag charge.
In addition to San Francisco, many cities and counties in California are developing plastic bag reduction programs. For instance, Los Angeles County recently banned plastic bags and placed a 10-cent fee on recycled paper bags.
Additional information on this case study:
Category: Health and Safety
Issue: Waste Reduction
Community Type: Urban
Location: San Francisco, California
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