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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bag Ban: Is San Francisco Scared of Substantive Legislation?

Posted By on Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 12:55 PM

click to enlarge Finally, an end to comic book solutions for real problems... - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Finally, an end to comic book solutions for real problems...

Update: See end.

This afternoon, the Board of Supervisors has a question to answer: Does this city want to actually solve problems related to single-use takeaway bags, or just continue presenting the veneer of doing so?

That depends on how much our elected representatives think We the People should be burdened in order to deal with this situation. In retrospect, it seems amazing that, in order to cut down on the hundreds of millions of throwaway bags changing hands in this city, San Franciscans were presented a "solution" that didn't ask them to lift one finger to make a change. But that's how we did it.

Today the supes will give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to a Ross Mirkarimi ordinance that would extend the city's plastic bag ban from big chain stores to all retail stores. Folks not bringing their own bags would be mandated to pay a dime, and, eventually, a quarter fee -- money the store will keep.

Those raising holy hell over the possibility of being charged a dime when they can't bring their own bag to the store are advised to consider the following:

  • Our current "ban" on plastic bags is a farce. It applies only to large stores, leaving vast swaths of the city untouched. It mindlessly shunts consumers to paper bags -- which, in many ways, are even worse for the environment than plastic ones.

  • Paying pocket change for bags hasn't yet caused pandemonium across Europe or where it's been applied here in the United States. People bring their own bags or shell out a few extra cents. Yes, the poorest among us will suffer. But halting meaningful legislation over feigned concerns for those so impoverished that less than $1 a week -- if that -- is a make-it-or-break-it sum is disingenuous. There are more substantive ways of helping these people than holding up bag fees.

  • That's because, finally, bag fees work. Bag bans do not; as noted above they simply lead to equally destructive behavior -- and, to make matters worse, people feel good about it. Whether in Europe or right here, small, almost token fees on bags really do affect people's behavior. When IKEA put a fee on its bags a few years back, it hoped to use the collected funds for charitable endeavors. But it hardly collected anything because bag use dropped 92 percent domestically in the first year alone.   

So, San Francisco's legislators have a choice. Do we actually take substantive steps to solve the problems that were serious enough to warrant our extensive -- but, ultimately superficial -- bag ban? Or would we rather continue to get credit for taking on "green concerns," but ask our citizens to do nothing -- and, in actuality, harm the environment?

click to enlarge This is the status quo - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • This is the status quo
In any event, we'll know in a couple of hours how much our supervisors feel this matters to us. Our board sources say Mirkarimi's measure won't necessarily run into the moderate buzz-saw one might predict. It remains to be seen how votes will be cast -- or, should the measure pass, whether Mayor Ed Lee will sign a bill that may draw the ire of Chinatown's pink bag-dispensing establishments.

SF Weekly poked plenty of holes in the bag ban in its current state, a plan drawn up by Mirkarimi. But in pushing for substantive legislation that would actually do what it purports to do -- heavily reduce the use of throwaway bags -- he is to be praised. We'll just have to see how much traction he can get with his colleagues.

After all, if it's not important enough for us to spend a few dimes, it must not be very important, right?

Update, 1:50 p.m.:
Mirkarimi says he has "solid support" for his ordinance. He is, however, hoping to amend it and will move to delay today's scheduled vote to Dec. 6.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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