San Francisco shoppers may have to pay for grocery bags

SAN FRANCISCO - Shoppers in San Francisco may soon be paying for their grocery sacks.

City officials are considering charging grocery stores 17 cents apiece for the bags to discourage use of plastic sacks.

Plastic is the choice of 90 percent of shoppers, but the sacks are blamed for everything from clogging recycling machines to killing marine life and suffocating infants.

Paper is recyclable, but city officials propose to include them as well to help reduce overall waste.

"One thing we've learned is that sending a financial signal to the marketplace tends to modify behavior much better than voluntary approaches," Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

But grocers and the plastics industry oppose the measure.

"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."

In addition, customers often simply buy more plastic bags to use for waste disposal.

The proposal parallels efforts in Ireland, South Africa, Bangladesh, Australia, Shanghai, Taiwan and other countries where the government bans plastic bags or charges a fee to use them.

State legislators defeated a bill last year that would have charged 2 cents on each non-recyclable disposable bag.

A resolution will be considered Tuesday by the city's Commission on the Environment. Mayor Gavin Newsom is reviewing the idea, while Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is in favor.

"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 city's Department of the Environment estimates San Francisco grocery store customers bring home about 50 million bags each year. That accounts for about 2 percent of waste, at an annual cleanup cost of about $8.4 million.


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