Plastic bag ban may ensnare pharmacies 

A proposed ban on the use of plastic bags in San Francisco’s large chain grocery stores could end up applying to smaller retail stores with a pharmacy license.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation that would ban the use of plastic bags in the estimated 54 large grocery stores in San Francisco. He and other city officials are accusing a number of large grocery stores of failing to live up to an agreement with The City to reduce plastic bag usage in exchange for The City not moving forward with a 17-cent tax per plastic bag.

Tens of millions of plastic bags are used every year that wind up littering city streets, choking wildlife, gumming up recycling machines and using fossil fuels.

As introduced, the legislation would require grocery stores that do more than $2 million in sales a year to only use bags made of recyclable paper, plastic bags that can be broken down into compost or reusable canvas and durable plastic bags. Stores that defy the law would face fines between $100 and $500.

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The Board of Supervisors City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee did not approve the legislation following a more than three-hour public hearing Thursday, but instead continued a vote on the legislation for two weeks after amending the legislation to apply to those stores with 5,000 square feet of retail and a pharmacy license. This was intended to include other stores responsible for high volumes of plastic bags such as Walgreens.

Mirkarimi, who is not a voting member on the committee, was opposed to the amendment, saying it "becomes a portal to opening a door of consideration of other consequences unforeseen." The supervisor primarily wants to target the 54 large grocery stores and believes the amendment will create more confusion and resistance.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier said the legislation should include the biggest users of plastic bags. "I think we should be consistent. I think that by going directly after grocery markets, we weren’t showing consistency," Alioto-Pier said.

Peter Larkin, president of the California Grocers Association, said adding the requirement of compostable bags makes no sense, as it would "complicate the whole system." Instead, Larkin advised The City to continue efforts "to reduce, reuse and recycle more bags."

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