Plastic Bags – Banned?

Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson recently upheld a San Francisco ordinance banning plastic bans from most retail locations in the city. On October 1st the new ban will go into effect and retailers affected by the ordinance will begin charging customers 10 cents for each paper bag that they use. Any store caught failing to comply will be fined up to $500 per violation.

According to Laura Kasa with Save Our Shores, 26,000 plastic bags collected over the last four years. This number does not account for the thousands of plastic bags that haven’t been recovered.


Once in the ocean, plastic bags tend to resemble jellyfish. Several species of sea turtle that frequent the California coast rely primarily on jellyfish for sustenance. The primary concerns driving similar plastic bag bans elsewhere in the country, including Santa Cruz county, are environmental in nature.

Since the passage of the previous plastic bag ban in San Francisco in 2007, the costs to retailers who must offer paper bags rather than plastic bags have skyrocketed. The California Grocer’s Association, who support the ban, claim that large supermarkets in the area have been losing an average of $80,000 anually since the ban took effect. Safeway claims a similar loss of $1 million per year at its fourteen San Francisco locations.

To offset this economic impact and broaden the ban to include more businesses, San Francisco has introduced a new ban. The new ban affects more businesses but includes a 10 cent charge to offset the losses introduced by providing paper bags. This fee is not taxable (as California has a law preventing tax increases without a 2/3 majority vote).

While the ban was upheld in San Francisco, the opposition remains adamant and promises to appeal. Stephen Joseph, a lawyer for the Save the Plastic Bag coalition has stated that, “This bag ordinance is nothing but green symbolism.” His case rests on the claim that a more thorough ecological impact study must be executed in order to assure that the ban is in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

According to a study done in Los Angeles, reusable bags have to be used a lot in order to offset their environmental costs. Polypropylene and cotton bags need to be used over 100 times to offset this impact. Joseph has raised the concern that the use of paper bags would be very bad if the public doesn’t embrace the use of reusable bags.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors has also floated a similar ban affecting all unincorporated areas in the county. It will be up to the cities to decide whether or not to pass similar bans. Joseph has already filed suit against the Board, seeking an increase in the fee from 10 cents per paper bag to 25 cents per bag. The effect of our local ban will ultimately rest on the success of the Save the Plastic Bag coalition’s appeal to the San Francisco ban. We’ll see how much longer we’ll be finding Safeway bags in our surf.


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