San Francisco retailers want to sack bag fee

As San Francisco looks to build on its green image, Asian-American merchants are worried about the potential impacts of charging shoppers up to 25 cents per bag provided.

News of the proposal, which is before the Board of Supervisors, is only now reaching the ethnic merchant communities, according to David Lee, a San Francisco State University political science professor who runs a nonprofit to increase civic engagement of the Asian-American community.

Lee said concerns from merchants prompted him to launch a petition Nov. 21 to oppose the proposal, which would ban single-use plastic bags in all businesses and force them to charge a fee for any compostable plastic, paper or reusable bag provided. Businesses would keep the fee revenue.

Concerns include hygiene and the economic impact, Lee said. Chinatown consumers go to the markets and buy live fish and frogs, produce and raw meats, among many other items, and Lee said you can’t put some of that stuff together in the same bags, and reusable ones would need washing. And though businesses would be allowed to keep the bag fee revenue, consumers might revolt and shop outside city limits, such as in Daly City where “parking is free.”

On Friday, Chinatown was bustling with shoppers toting pink plastic bags full of produce, meats, fish, takeout food and other
products. The bags were highly visible behind counters in takeout restaurants and produce markets.

Mary Tam, who for the past 30 years has been with the family-owned Kwong Sang Lung Co., which sells “gifts and herbs,” said the bag fee would drive away customers.

“That’s too expensive,” Tam said. “They’ll say, ‘OK, I don’t buy it. I go.’”

Tam suggested consumers wouldn’t bring their own bags either out of laziness or forgetfulness. She called the proposal a “big change” that will make people in Chinatown “very upset.”

Hwagin Chiang, the owner of a bookstore on Stockton and Jackson streets, said the bag cost would be too burdensome for Chinatown residents. Chiang said the plastic bag culture cannot be overcome, and her customers would “give you a very bad face” and just leave without buying anything.

SFSU’s Lee said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who introduced the bag legislation, should “slow it down.” The board is scheduled to vote Dec. 6 on the proposal.

“These are not concerns that can be just dismissed,” Lee said.

Mirkarimi, who did not return a call for comment Friday, has said San Francisco has fallen behind other cities that have more-aggressive laws to curb single-use plastic bags and The City should keep up.

Going green

What the fee proposal will do:

July 1: Retailers can only supply, for a fee, bags that are certified-compostable plastic, paper with 100 percent recycled content and reusables that are designed for at least 125 uses; no store can provide a recyclable paper bag or reusable bag without charging at least 10 cents
July 2013:  Law applies to food establishments
July 2014: Fee could increase to 25 cents

Source: Board of Supervisors

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