San Francisco restaurants will soon have to use more environmentally friendly bags for takeout and delivery orders while charging a 10-cent surcharge for one provided as part of a broad effort to eliminate the plastic bag in The City.
As plastic bags increasingly became the target of criticism for filling up landfills; clogging sewers; gumming up recycling machines; and littering city streets, beaches and parks a law was adopted in 2007 banning their use in large supermarkets and pharmacies. Such businesses were allowed to use only paper or compostable bags or those provided by customers.
Building on the effort, in 2012 the law was expanded to enact a plastic bag ban at all retail stores in The City. By then, other cities had passed much more restrictive laws than San Francisco's initial ban, which in 2007 had led the way in the nation's anti-plastic bag movement.
The 2012 law gave restaurants a one-year reprieve. But that expires on Oct. 1, when restaurants will have to comply with the law for bags used in delivery or takeout. There are a few exceptions to the rules, such as there being no charge for doggie bags or bags used to contain hot soup containers.
The Department of the Environment is currently engaged in an outreach effort to ensure restaurant owners are aware of the law.
"All of them; we plan to reach all of them," said department outreach manager Donald Oliveira. Violations carry fines of between $100 and $500.
The 2012 law banned the use of plastic bags in all retail businesses and permitted the use of three different bag types: 40 percent post-consumer paper, compostable plastic, and bags that are reusable 125 times or more and washable. Also, the law requires retailers to charge 10 cents per bag at the register. The idea behind the charge was to change consumers' behavior while covering business owners' expense for more costly bags that also are better for the environment. At the time, lawmakers pointed to Ireland, which enacted a bag fee and watched as plastic bag usage decreased by 90 percent.
Commission on the Environment Chairman Joshua Arce praised the effort.
"The plastic bag ordinance has helped many of us understand how easy it is to use our own bags or to move things from place to place without a bag at all," Arce said.
The city controller is required by the law to issue an economic study on its impact by Jan. 1.