As environmental officials prepare to make Chinatown’s ubiquitous pink bags a thing of the past, they have begun educating merchants about The City’s expansion of its plastic bag ban. And that is how one merchant Tuesday came to stick his foot inside a light green, corn-based compostable bag, which will remain legal under the new regulations.
“Very strong,” he said of its durability.
But when the businessman, who didn’t wish to be named, asked if he would begin using them, he wasn’t so sure.
“Depends on the price,” he said.
Tuesday at the Chinatown YMCA, The City’s Department of the Environment held a “bag fair” to let vendors present their products and explain the ban’s rationale, which is that plastic bags harm marine ecosystems and clog landfills with material known to take more than a century to decompose.
The standard pink plastic model used on Stockton Street — along with all other non-compostable plastic-based shopping in San Francisco — will no longer be allowed starting Oct. 1.
While The City’s current bag ban applies only to large grocery stores and chain pharmacies, an expanded law approved in February now applies to all businesses, including retail establishments. Restaurants also will be subject to the restrictions, but they need not comply until October 2013.
The wider ban is designed to create an incentive for carrying reusable canvas sacks by requiring businesses to charge 10 cents for any “single-use” bags. The extra dimes charged to forgetful shoppers will be retained by the businesses. Traditional plastic bags will be outlawed, unless they are at least 2.25 millimeters thick and durable enough to be used at least 125 times.
If plastic bags are still bought and widely used by sellers, the department recommends the compostable plastic bags, which currently cost three times as much as traditional bags.
After the department holds other bag fairs over the next few months, city inspectors will be sent into stores to check for compliance. But Guillermo Rodriguez, the department’s director of policy and communications, said officials plan to be lenient at first — especially if stores already have a stockpile of traditional plastic bags.
“We’re not looking to write tickets,” he said.
Rodriguez also noted that traditional plastic is still allowed if hot or cold food — or any produce — has direct contact with the bag. But if lighter-grade and typically clear produce section bags are used for fruits and vegetables, merchants must ultimately charge the 10 cents for the checkout bag that holds them.
Under the new law, violators can be charged $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second and $500 thereafter.
Traditional noncompostable plastic bags will still be legal for nonpackaged foods, but only if the food has direct contact with the bag. If the food is in lighter-grade produce bags, merchants must charge 10 cents for the checkout bag.