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San Francisco May Charge Stores Fee for Bags

SAN FRANCISCO - Officials here are thinking about charging supermarkets 17 cents for each grocery bag -- paper or plastic -- as a way to keep down the use of plastic bags specifically and cut down on overall waste.

San Francisco's Commission on the Environment is scheduled to consider the proposal tomorrow, and the city's mayor, Gavin Newsom, is looking into the plan. The Department of the Environment in San Francisco estimates that local shoppers bring home around 50 million bags annually, accounting for approximately 2 percent of waste, at a yearly cleanup cost of about $8.4 million.

Not surprisingly, the supermarket industry "is strongly opposed" to the proposal. Paul Smith, v.p. government relations of the California Grocers Association in Sacramento, told Progressive Grocer the measure was "an unfair consumer tax aimed at the food industry."

Smith said he believes two dynamics are at work in the proposal: the movement to get rid of the current selection of plastic or paper bags altogether, in favor of canvas or reusable/recyclable bags; and the need for cash-strapped California cities and counties to find "new ways to increase revenue."

Smith said that the measure now on the table in San Francisco would have to be changed because it has "no accountability" and only applies to grocers. He conceded, however, that such a proposal "in some form or fashion" would be "difficult to stop," and that the issue of fees associated with bags "is not going away." Meanwhile, he lamented, proactive industry initiatives, such as promoting recycling and offering canvas bags at a reasonable price, were being overlooked by local lawmakers.

Last year state legislators defeated a bill that would have levied a charge of two cents on each nonrecyclable disposable bag.

Ireland, South Africa, Bangladesh, Australia, Shanghai, and Taiwan all have laws in effect either banning plastic bags outright or charging a fee for their use.

--Bridget Goldschmidt
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