In hopes of cleaning landfills and city streets, the South San Francisco City Council agreed recently to pursue creating a voluntary program that would prohibit the use of plastic and paper bags in retail stores.
The idea, Councilwoman Karyl Matsumoto said, will give consumers a choice to use reusable bags or accept a fee.
“We’re not jamming it down people’s throats,” she said. “But customers have the option to say ‘OK, charge me 10 cents.’”
Matsumoto and fellow Councilman Rich Garbarino said the effort would not force retailers to comply with an ordinance, but rather allow them to be proactive in phasing out plastic and paper bags and selling reusable sacks.
“We’ve got a group of grocers who don’t need more ordinances,” Garbarino said. “This way, we’d try it out and see if people go along with it.”
Cities throughout the country have enacted bans, including San Francisco, which in 2007 banned the use of just-plastic bags in large retail stores. And a bag charge of 20 cents was approved by Seattle officials in July, according to the National Grocery Association.
South San Francisco leaders have discussed the possibility of allowing stores to charge consumers up to 10 cents per bag, unless they have a reusable bag.
“Even if they have their own bags now, people forget them,” said Bill Simmons, member of the Pacifica Beach Coalition, a nonprofit aimed at protecting the San Mateo coastline. “A dime will help us remember.”
Though no legislation is in place in South City, Matsumoto and Garbarino said they plan on approaching surrounding communities to gain support and participation from retailers.
But the city could eventually make the voluntary act mandatory, depending on participation.
“This is a priority of ours,” Matsumoto said. “We’re ready to do legislation, but we’ll see what kind of response we get.”
Simmons said little opposition has been expressed over the idea. He said the plastic industry was skeptical, but once it was noted that paper bags would be treated in a similar fashion, they backed off.
Simmons said a statewide effort to charge 25 cents per bag failed last year because most of the fee would benefit government. This proposal, however, would just allow businesses to charge consumers for the product.
- Current ordinance: None. Consumers can bring reusable bags or use plastic and paper bags provided by the retailer.
- Proposed: Start a voluntary program to help phase out paper and plastic in favor of reusable bags by charging 10 cents per paper or plastic bag to the consumer.
- Why: To be more environmentally friendly.
Source: South San Francisco