EnvironmentGovernmentNewsSan Francisco

Board moves forward proposal to increase single-use bag fee

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The cost of a plastic checkout bag from San Francisco stores could soon rise from 10 cents to 25 cents in an effort to encourage customers to bring their own bags and reduce plastic pollution.

The proposed ordinance would also require that stores provide customers with pre-checkout recyclable or compostable bags, including those found in produce sections, before the point of sale.

Supervisors at the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday approved the proposal, which is now headed to the full board for a vote.

In 2012, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the 10-cent charge for checkout bags made of recyclable or compostable materials. The City banned stores from distributing single-use plastic bags four years earlier.

Following The City’s implementation of the 10-cent bag fee, the Department of Environment conducted an informal survey and found 60 percent of customers were bringing their own bags.

At the committee meeting, Supervisor Vallie Brown, who sponsored the proposed ordinance, said:

“We need to make a deeper change. We need to change the way we live, consume and generate waste.”

According to the ordinance, 11 counties and cities have already begun charging more than San Francisco currently does.

Debbie Raphael, director of the Department of Environment said:

“At the end of the day, it’s about getting rid of plastic and finding all the different ways that it is used in our commercial enterprises to try to find alternatives.”

State legislators in 2014 passed a similar measure that bans stores from distributing single-use plastic bags, but allows them to offer paper or reusable plastic.

Raphael said while San Francisco stores are following state and local laws, 40 percent only offer thicker plastic bags with the words “reusable” printed on them, while about half provide paper bags:

“We are not reducing the amount of the plastic going into our system.”

Both Brown and Raphael believe that by increasing the checkout bag fee, it would encourage more customers to bring their own.

The Department of Environment reported that Santa Cruz, which increased its per bag fee from 10 cents to 25 cents in 2014, saw 90 percent of customers bring their own bag when the fee increased.

Supervisor Matt Haney said he has concerns that an increase would impact low-income customers who may not have access to reusable alternatives.

Raphael said the department plans to conduct a more comprehensive survey of stores to identify neighborhoods where customers are most paying for bags and why.

If the department finds more customers pay bag fees in lower-income neighborhoods, Raphael said:

“We will be designing our engagement campaign to give away those bags. Very targeted in those neighborhoods.”

The ordinance would take effect July 1, 2020 if approved by the full board.

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