San Francisco Passes Plastic Bag Ban
SAN FRANCISCO - City leaders approved a ban on plastic grocery bags after weeks of lobbying on both sides from environmentalists and a supermarket trade group. San Francisco would be the first U.S. city to adopt such a rule if Mayor Gavin Newsom signs the ban as expected.
The law, approved 10-1, requires large markets and drug stores to offer customers bags made of paper that can be recycled, plastic that breaks down easily enough to be made into compost, or reusable cloth.
San Francisco supervisors and supporters said that by banning the petroleum-based sacks, blamed for littering streets and choking marine life, the measure would go a long way toward helping the city earn its green stripes.
"Hopefully, other cities and states will follow suit," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who crafted the ban after trying to get a 15-cent per bag tax passed in 2005.
The 50 grocery stores that would be most affected by the law argued that the ban was not reasonable because plastic bags made of corn byproducts are a relatively new, expensive and untested product. Some said they might offer only paper bags at checkout.
"I think what grocers will do now that this has passed is, they will review all their options and decide what they think works best for them economically," said David Heylen, a spokesman for the California Grocers Association.
Newsom supported the measure. The switch is scheduled to take effect in six months for grocery stores and in one year for pharmacies.
Craig Noble, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it would be disappointing if grocers rejected the biodegradable plastic bag option, since more trees would have to be cut down if paper bag use increases.
The new breed of bags "offers consumers a way out of a false choice, a way out of the paper or plastic dilemma," Noble said.
WRITE_UP AND INFO
Paper Bags Are Better Than Plastic, Right?
The answer to the "paper or plastic"? dilemma is: Neither. They're roughly equal in pros and cons. While convenient addictions, they both gobble up natural resources and cause significant pollution.
Issue 1: Energy and natural resources
It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.
ENERGY TO PRODUCE BAG ORIGINALLY (BTUs)
Safeway Plastic Bags: 594 BTUs
Safeway Paper Bags: 2511 BTUs
(Source: 1989 Plastic Recycling Directory, Society of Plastics Industry.)
Of course, most paper comes from tree pulp, so the impact of paper bag production on forests is enormous. In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone. Paper bag production delivers a global warming double-whammy forests (major absorbers of greenhouse gases) have to be cut down, and then the subsequent manufacturing of bags produces greenhouse gases.
Issue 2: Pollution
The majority of kraft paper is made by heating wood chips under pressure at high temperatures in a chemical solution. As evidenced by the unmistakable stench commonly associated with paper mills, the use of these toxic chemicals contributes to both air pollution, such as acid rain, and water pollution. Millions of gallons of these chemicals pour into our waterways each year; the toxicity of the chemicals is long-term and settles into the sediments, working its way through the food chain. Further toxicity is generated as both plastic and paper bags degrade.
POLLUTANTS PAPER V.S. PLASTIC
Paper sacks generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
Source: "Comparison of the Effects on the Environment of Polyethylene and Paper Carrier Bags," Federal Office of the Environment, August 1988
Issue 3: Recycling
It takes 91% less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper. But recycling rates of either type of disposable bag are extremely low, with only 10 to 15% of paper bags and 1 to 3% of plastic bags being recycled, according to the Wall Street Journal.
ENERGY TO RECYCLE PACKAGE ONCE (BTUs)
Safeway Plastic Bags: 17 BTUs
Safeway Paper Bags: 1444 BTUs
Source: 1989 Plastic Recycling Directory, Society of Plastics Industry.
Although paper bags have a higher recycling rate than plastic, each new paper grocery bag you use is made from mostly virgin pulp for better strength and elasticity.
Issue 4: Degradability
Current research demonstrates that paper in today's landfills does not degrade or break down at a substantially faster rate than plastic does. In fact, nothing completely degrades in modern landfills because of the lack of water, light, oxygen and other important elements that are necessary for the degradation process to be completed. A paper bags takes up more space than a plastic bag in a landfill, but because paper is recycled at a higher rate, saving space in landfills is less of an issue.