SAN FRANCISCO — Supermarkets here that do more than $2 million in annual sales and pharmacies with more than five locations will have to switch to biodegradable or recyclable bags in place of the plastic bags they currently offer under an ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors in a 10-1 vote last week.
The ordinance is scheduled to come up for a second, procedural vote next Tuesday, after which Mayor Gavin Newsom has indicated he will sign it; 30 days later it will become law, with supermarkets having six months to comply and pharmacies one year.
The new law will require retailers to offer bags that are made of compostable paper or plastic material that can be recycled. Those who fail to comply will face fines of up to $500 per violation.
The city said it is the first municipality in the U.S. to prohibit supermarkets and pharmacies from distributing plastic bags.
The California Grocers Association said the ordinance will cripple normal recycling efforts while failing to reduce carryout bag usage.
“Singling out one segment of the grocery industry while allowing thousands of other merchants to distribute regular plastic bags will confuse consumers, who will unintentionally recycle both compostable and regular plastic bags, resulting in contamination of recyclable material,” CGA said in a written statement. “If not properly disposed, compostable carryout bags will have the same environmental impact as plastic recyclable bags in regard to litter, marine debris and lack of waste diversion.”
Published reports said biodegradable bags — made from materials such as potato starch — cost 4 to 8 cents each, compared with 1 cent each for plastic bags and 5 cents apiece for paper, though observers said they expect the price of biodegradable bags could drop with increased usage.
Supermarkets here avoided a proposed 17-cent tax on every plastic bag used in 2005 when they agreed to reduce bag usage; however, city supervisors felt that effort — which reduced the number of plastic bags used by 7.6 million in 2006 — fell short of the mark and proposed the new ordinance.