Let's make all S.F. retailers comply with bag ban

 

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will vote Tuesday on improvements to the city's plastic bag ordinance that would re-establish San Francisco as a leader in protecting the bay and creeks from pollution. These changes also finally would level the playing field for San Francisco businesses and as a result are supported by our Small Business Commission, Chamber of Commerce and the California Grocers Association.

San Francisco's existing ban on plastic bags only applies to a few large grocers and pharmacies, so it doesn't curtail most of the plastic bags littering the city and the bay. The improved ordinance would expand the ban to all retail establishments in San Francisco and would also establish a minimum charge for paper, compostable and reusable bags, providing an incentive for shoppers to make a habit of bringing their own bags.

These changes are good for businesses, which will no longer be expected to give away a product for free; bags will become an item for sale, just like a carton of milk. Because this policy will apply to every retailer and restaurant in the city, stores will no longer have a competitor who is exempt. As the California Grocers Association notes, an all-retailers approach creates a regionally consistent policy that benefits customers and the community.

San Francisco passed the first plastic bag ban in the country in 2007, positioning the city as a leader in sustainability and as a "green" destination for visitors who come to enjoy our spectacular scenery, especially the bay. Our experience under that limited ban has proved that supporting local businesses and protecting the bay environment go hand in hand. Customers at the city's few large grocers and pharmacies are bringing their own reusable bags more often.

However, other Bay Area cities now have taken the lead in battling this pollution. San Jose, the largest city in our region, passed the state's toughest ban, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2012, and other cities are following. San Francisco needs to do more to reduce the estimated 1 million plastic bags that blow and wash into the bay each year, and millions more that pollute our neighborhoods.

Bay Area residents use an estimated 3.8 billion plastic bags per year and discard more than 100 plastic bags per second. The average use time of a bag is only 12 minutes, but once in the environment, plastic lasts for years.

Plastic trash entangles, suffocates and poisons fish and wildlife, including sea turtles, birds and marine mammals. It smothers the bay's wetlands. These bags are one of the most common items retrieved at coastal cleanup events on the bay and ocean shoreline.

For four years, a few San Francisco retailers have proved they can thrive and satisfy customers without distributing free bags that pollute our community. Now the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee should ensure all stores and shoppers are participating to make San Francisco's environment and economy healthy, and help to make plastic bag trash a thing of the past.

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