Friday, March 23, 2007

Ban on Plastic Bags in San Francisco?

San Francisco is considering enacting a ban on plastic bags in grocery stores. That's right, the "urban tumbleweed" may be nearing its end. Instead, stores would have to offer other options, which besides the obvious paper bags include reusable canvas bags or sturdier, longer-lasting plastic bags.

This isn't the first time this city has considered taking measures against the bags. In 2005, officials almost implemented a 17-cent tax on them before retailers agreed to voluntarily reduce annual bag usage by 10 million. Unsurprisingly, there's some disagreement as to how well this promise has been followed through with. An article in Waste News (oh how I love the database access I get through Stetson) says that although the California Grocers' Association quoted a reduction of 7.6 million bags, the city's third-party consulting company failed to find any basis for this claim. Ross Mirkarimi, the county supervisor who proposed the ban, says that the retailers "did a very lackluster job."

The NPR article quotes the president of the California Grocers as saying that the law, if passed, could "unintentionally lead to the use of paper bags only, which … would increase waste." I for one don't really understand how that would work. For one, paper bags are very much more biodegradable than plastic bags. Second, paper bags are made from the classic example of a renewable resource -- paper! Third, most paper bags aren't made with fresh-cut trees but rather recycled paper. These last two reasons make paper much more appealing to me personally, since plastic bags are a petroleum-derived product.

However, if plastic bags still seem to find their way into your home, there are a few things you can do about them. Most obviously, return them to where you got them -- most stores offer plastic bag recycling services. If you're more into the "reuse" part of the three R's, there are some interesting ways you can put them to use. Check the last link for a huge list of ideas.