Plan for reusable bag payments faces key vote 

The City is looking to build on its plastic bag ban and could start forcing chain grocery and drugstores to offer a 10-cent rebate per bag for any shopper who brings in their own totes to carry out their purchases.

The rebate proposal follows a long series of laws adopted by San Francisco that are intended to reduce waste and eliminate the use of products considered harmful to the environment, such as the 2007 ban on plastic bags and the ban on Styrofoam containers in restaurants. The rebate would affect about 50 supermarkets and about 50 drugstores.

The City’s Commission on the Environment meets Tuesday to vote on whether to recommend the Board of Supervisors approve the bag rebate legislation. It’s believed that no other U.S. city requires a rebate.

Chain grocery and drugstores would have to discount customers 10 cents for every bag used to carry out purchased items. The proposal builds on a plastic bag ban that went into effect for those types of businesses. That law has resulted in a 50 percent reduction in plastic bag litter found on the streets, according to the Department of the Environment.

The threat of the rebate, however, has prompted meetings between industry representatives and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who introduced the legislation. He also introduced the legislation that established the plastic bag ban.

“Supervisor Mirkarimi’s efforts to increase reusable bag use are appreciated, but this proposal creates substantial financial burdens for stores,” said Timothy James, a manager with the California Grocers Association, which also lobbied against the plastic bag ban. “The grocery industry is exploring alternative approaches with Supervisor Mirkarimi to reduce waste and encourage reusable bag use.”

Mirkarimi said he’s open to other options, but they would have to be substantial.

“If they are sincere about encouraging and institutionalizing a better practice, then lets make it real and effective,” he said.

The plastic bag ban forced some businesses to give up using less expensive plastic bags and increase usage of paper bags. Safeway said the plastic bag ban has increased its expenses by $900,000 a year in its 15 San Francisco stores.

Safeway spokeswoman Susan Houghton said the company supports the effort, but customers should use reusable bags “because it’s the right thing to do” and not because somebody is paying them to do it.

Mythili Raja, who was shopping at a Market Street Walgreens, supported the drugstore offering a rebate but didn’t think The City should require it because “then there’s no limit to what The City can do for everything else.” She also said its unlikely a rebate would change consumer behavior.

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