IN A MOVE THAT LIKELY has the supermarket industry in San Francisco breathing a sigh of relief, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently announced an agreement between the city's Department of Environment (DOE) and eight supermarket operators to reduce the annual use of grocery bags in the city by 10 million bags before the end of 2006. The agreement takes the place of a previous proposal that would have resulted in a 17-cent charge for each paper or plastic bag taken from grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales, a measure that the supermarket industry had lobbied against.
“Today, our city is taking a historic step to reduce the use of disposable items such as grocery store bags,” Newsom said during the announcement of the agreement. “This is just the beginning if we are to become a truly sustainable city.”
The agreement is expected to take San Francisco a step closer to its goal of diverting 75 percent of waste from landfills by 2010 and 100 percent by 2020. Grocery bags account for about 2 percent of the city's total waste and costs San Francisco approximately $8.4 million every year to dispose, which figures out to nearly 17 cents per bag, according to DOE. And while exact figures are not available, the 10 million bags make up roughly 20 percent of the bags distributed in the city each year, according to the Mayor's Office of Communications.
San Francisco officials estimate that reducing grocery bag consumption by 10 million bags will keep 95 tons of plastic out of the city's waste stream and will reduce the city's emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, by approximately 1 million pounds.
To reach the reduction goal, the Letter of Agreement approved by the parties lists suggested strategies for the stores, such as bagger retraining, selling reusable bags and employee education. “Stores have less control encouraging customers to recycle bags than they do limiting distribution of checkout bags,” the Letter of Agreement states.
Required actions include making recycling kiosks visible and accessible, prominently displaying information about in-store recycling programs, and establishing other publicity or incentive programs. The store operators — which include Albertsons, Andronicos, Bell Markets, CalMart, Cala Foods, Foods Co., Mollie Stone's and Safeway — also will contribute, through their bag suppliers, $100,000 for a joint education campaign.
In turn, San Francisco will create a citywide curbside recycling program for plastic checkout sacks by the end of the year. The mayor and DOE also agreed not to place a fee on grocery bags while the agreement is in effect.
So far, no cities in the United States have implemented a fee on grocery bags. Abroad, however, some countries have adopted or are considering per-bag taxes in an effort to curb their use. Since 2002, Ireland, for example, has charged nearly 20 cents per plastic bag.