City Hall Watch: Plastic bag ban may apply to newspapers

After banning plastic bags from large grocery stores and drug stores, The City is now proposing to force the newspaper industry to stop using plastic covers protecting publications from the elements.

Newspapers would have to come in compostable or recyclable bags under a law introduced Tuesday by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, which builds on his groundbreaking legislation.

Prior to the ban, city officials estimated that 180 million plastic bags are used annually, and blamed them for littering the streets, clogging storm drains, harming wildlife and jamming recycling machines.

“I want to take this [ban] a bit further,” Mirkarimi said Tuesday.

The proposed law, co-sponsored by Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, would make it illegal for anyone to distribute handbills, newspapers or other print publications whether solicited or not, in a bag that is not compostable or recyclable. Penalties could reach as high as $500 per violation.

Thelaw takes aim at newspapers currently being delivered in polyethylene bangs, which Mirkarimi said, includes such publications as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Examiner.

It is unclear how much more the compostable or recyclable bags would cost newspapers. City officials said that a plastic grocery bag costs about one or two cents, while a compostable bag about eight cents or more, and suspected a similar cost-ratio would apply to newspaper bags.

Mirkarimi could not say what the cost impact would be. “The bio-bag industry is booming but I can’t speak for the procurement policies of each newspaper,” Mirkarimi said.

In November, San Francisco became the first major city in the country to ban grocery stores from using plastic bags. The ban extended to The City’s chain drug stores, such as Walgreens and Rite Aid, on May 20.

The proposed law would require a vote by the full Board of Supervisors.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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