The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a ban on plastic grocery bags in a controversial decision supported by environmentalists and opposed by a supermarket trade association. If Mayor Gavin Newsom signs the ban as expected, San Francisco would be the first U.S. city to adopt a plastic bag ban.
Passed by a 10-1 vote, the law would require large markets and drug stores to give customers a choice among bags made of recyclable paper, plastic made from cornstarch that breaks down into compost, or reusable cloth. Plastic bags are made from petroleum.
The 50 San Francisco grocery stores that would be most affected argue that the ban on petroleum-based plastic bags is not reasonable because plastic bags made of cornstarch are new, expensive and untested. Some said they might offer only paper bags at their checkout stations, which would require more trees to be cut.
The California Grocers Association has resisted the change. Two years ago, San Francisco agreed not to levy a 17 cent tax on plastic bags if supermarkets would agree to cut the number of plastic bags it used by 10 million each year.
The grocers' association claimed it reduced the number of plastic bags by 7.6 million in 2006 - a number that fell short of the target and appeared unreliable because of the way the data was gathered.
“We can take steps to make our economy a little more soulful in San Francisco," the ordinance's chief sponsor, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi told reporters after the vote. "We can't sleepwalk into the future. The end of the era of cheap oil is here."