After failing to adhere to a voluntary agreement to reduce plastic bag usage, large grocery stores in San Francisco may soon be required by law to use only environmentally friendly check-out bags.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation Tuesday that would hit large grocery stores with steep penalties if they do not adhere to the proposed mandatory use of recyclable, compostable or reusable check-out bags.
If ultimately approved by the Board of Supervisors, the legislation would go into effect July 1.
The proposed law is the latest move by city officials to figure out how to deal with tens of millions of plastic bags used every year that impede The City’s recycling machines, litter the streets and threaten marine life.
The legislation comes after it appears a 13-month pact struck between Mayor Gavin Newsom and grocery industry officials has fallen apart.
Two years ago, Newsom helped broker a deal with large grocery stores to reduce the usage of plastic bags by 10 million, which translates to 95 tons of waste.
The grocery stores were given a deadline of December 2006 to submit the number of plastic bags used in The City, but all the grocery stores missed the deadline. The City then extended the deadline by one week, and even then only three grocery stores responded, and with impartial data, according to the Department of the Environment.
The agreement was struck two years ago as The City was considering a 17-cent tax on plastic bags. The grocery store industry had threatened a big-money campaign in opposition to the tax.
During the 13-month pact, the California Grocers Association successfullylobbied for a state law prohibiting cities from putting a tax on grocery bags.
The legislation "puts the responsibility on the producers themselves and those who are responsible for the dissemination of the bags," Mirkarimi said.
Mirkarimi said he also wants to explore the idea of including a rebate system as part of the legislation where consumers are rewarded if they bring their own bags to the grocery stores, much like how people receive money if they return cans or bottles.
"Nations like Ireland, Taiwan, Japan, Bangladesh, Australia, Germany, etc., have all implemented varying degrees of prohibitions on plastic," Mirkarimi said. "I believe it is time San Francisco joins that fray."
The legislation would impact those grocery stores with gross annual sales of at least $2 million, which is estimated to be 54 stores, such as Safeway and Cala Foods. Stores that violate the ordinance could be assessed up to $500 per violation.