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RE: [greenyes] Grocery bag fee in SF

Bottom line -- plastic bags are not free anyway. In addition to
environmental costs, there is the real costs we all pay in the form of
higher prices. This tax is designed to reduce consumption -- capturing the
some of the costs of something that is perceived as free. It is progressive
and visionary.

The SF program is modeled after Ireland's extremely successful "PlasTax"
which has reduced plastic bag consumption by 90% (approximately 1 billion
bags per year!). Bottom line, the PlasTax works. That is why Australia, UK,
and others are considering implementing it too. There is no real mention of
these in the article. For that matter, most of the real problems of plastic
bags were left out.

We have been working with Emily Utter providing them with background, points
to argue, etc. They need help today for the commission hearing where they
will take public comments. Contact her for more.

For those that want to learn a bit more about this issue and the problems
with plastic bags. I suggest visiting these sections of our site.

?PlasTax? ? Scoop on the Plastic Bag Tax

The real cost of "free"

Impact on Oceans and Beaches

Recycling Can Fix This, Right?

Vincent Cobb

-----Original Message-----
From: Heidi Feldman [mailto:hfeldman@no.address]
Sent: Monday, November 22, 2004 3:37 PM
To: GreenYes@no.address
Subject: [greenyes] Grocery bag fee in SF

Interesting story about a "revolutionary" program in San Francisco...which
has been standard practice in Europe for many years! If there's anyone in
the region, they need support tomorrow for a hearing. Or you can write a
support letter to For more info, contact

Heidi Feldman
Public Education Coordinator
Monterey Regional Waste Management District
Tel.: 831/384-5313 FAX: 831/384-3567

Paper or plastic? Pay up
S.F. grocers might be charged 17¢ per sack -- and pass on the cost
- Suzanne Herel, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, November 20, 2004
In San Francisco, the free grocery bag soon might go the way of the
full-service gas station.
City officials are considering charging grocery stores 17 cents apiece for
the bags, 90 percent of which are plastic -- and are blamed by
environmentalists for everything from clogging recycling machines to killing
marine life and suffocating infants.
Although the environmentalists are not as concerned about the effect of
recyclable paper bags on the environment, the proposal would include them,
too, with the idea of reducing waste in general.
In turn, the fee would be passed on to the consumer. Proponents of the
surcharge hope this will persuade shoppers to give up the convenience of the
disposable sack.
"Yes, it's going to be a pain the ass, but that's part of the point," said
Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. "One thing
we've learned is that sending a financial signal to the marketplace tends to
modify behavior much better than voluntary approaches."
Trade groups representing grocers and the plastics industry predictably
aren't crazy about the idea.
"We think essentially it's an unnecessary and misguided approach," said Tim
Shestek, spokesman for the American Plastics Council. "This tax is going to
hurt those who can least afford it."
The proposal, set to be considered by the Commission on the Environment on
Tuesday, imitates efforts around the world to stem the use of plastic bags
-- known in China as "white pollution." Ireland, South Africa, Bangladesh,
Australia, Shanghai and Taiwan are just a few of the places where the
government either bans plastic bags outright or charges a fee to use them.
Trade groups contend that the results of those efforts are mixed. In
Ireland, for example, there is anecdotal evidence of increased shoplifting
as people bring in their own bags and higher sales of boxes of plastic bags,
which consumers use for everything from pet waste to trash cans.
Murray said the local effort is the first in California after an Assembly
bill to levy a statewide 2-cents charge on nonrecyclable disposable bags
failed last year.
"We've attempted to pursue this at a state level, but the lobbyists for the
retail industry are too strong," he said.
After being considered by the commission, the proposal would move to the
mayor's office or the Board of Supervisors in search of legislative
sponsors. A spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom said the mayor is reviewing it.
Meanwhile, the proposal has at least one potential champion on the Board of
Supervisors, the newly elected Ross Mirkarimi, who helped found the city's
Department of the Environment, which is overseen by the Commission on the
"We all have a responsibility to promote a healthy and sustainable
environment, and by doing that, it means we need to help change people's
patterns, and that even means their shopping patterns," said Mirkarimi, who
will take office in January. "This is a sensible user fee."
The proposal, which takes the form of a resolution urging the mayor and
board to take action, also suggests expanding the surcharge in the future
beyond grocers to include drug stores, dry cleaners, newspapers and other
According to the Department of the Environment, consumers lug home about 50
million bags from San Francisco grocery stores each year. Of those, 90
percent are nonrecyclable plastic.
A report prepared in support of the proposal by Robert Haley, recycling
program manager for the environment department, says plastic bags gum up
recycling and composting machines at Norcal -- San Francisco's waste
management provider -- resulting in $1 million in extra costs and lost
revenue from the sale of recyclable materials.
The bags account for 2 percent of the city's total "waste stream," and
picking up and disposing littered bags cost an additional $7.4 million
annually, according to the report.
It notes that an estimated 12 million barrels of oil go into the production
of plastic bags, while 14 million trees are felled to make their paper
Paul Smith, vice president of the California Grocers Association, said the
proposal is strongly opposed by the industry group.
"We're not sure where it came from or ... where the 17 cents is going to go.
There's not really a lot of accountability," Smith said.
According to the proposal, grocers would be able to keep half of the fee and
would be expected to spend it on city-approved programs, such as discounted
reusable shopping bags.
Shestek, the American Plastics Council spokesman, said some of the costs
attributed to plastic bags could be recouped by sending plastic bag waste to
companies that can use it as a raw material, such as decking and composite
lumber producers.
Heidi Melander, president of the Northern California Recycling Association,
a supporter of the proposal, said the fee was a tangible way the public can
participate in helping reduce waste.
"We've been trained to want bags," she said. "It's gotten out of hand --
everywhere you go, they force them on you, and they think you're weird if
you don't take a bag. We might not have control over the blister packaging
around the electronic equipment we buy. But we have control over taking that

Grocery bag surcharge debate
Pro: Would lead to reduced usage, resulting in saving millions of dollars in
litter control and waste management costs that proponents of the levy
attribute mostly to plastic bags.
Con: Amounts to a regressive tax that would be a heavier burden on lower-
income consumers with little control over spending of the money generated.
E-mail Suzanne Herel at sherel@no.address
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©2004 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback | FAQ

Heidi Feldman
Public Education Coordinator
Monterey Regional Waste Management District
Tel.: 831/384-5313 FAX: 831/384-3567

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