San Francisco Plastic Bag Ban Gets Go-Ahead From Judge

A man walks along the street with plastic bags in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 24, 2012. Now that the city of Los Angeles has t
A man walks along the street with plastic bags in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 24, 2012. Now that the city of Los Angeles has taken the first step toward banning plastic bags, it appears the little utilitarian bags themselves may be headed for the trash heap of history. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Superior Court Judge Teri Jackson on Tuesday upheld a San Francisco ordinance that would ban most retail locations in the city from distributing plastic bags and begin charging customers a dime for each paper bag (or comparatively more expensive compostable plastic bag) they use.

The ruling came as a result of a lawsuit by the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition, which argued the city didn't undertake a thorough report on the impact of the rule before it was passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and signed by Mayor Ed Lee earlier this year.

"I applaud Judge Jackson for her careful consideration of the issues, and for rejecting arguments by plastic bag manufacturers that clearly misapplied state law," San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. "San Franciscans deserve the same benefit other jurisdictions enjoy from an effective policy that has been shown to reduce the proliferation of single-use bags use by as much as 95 percent."

The ordinance expands a 2007 law, the first of its kind in the nation, that banned non-compostable plastic bags at large supermarkets and pharmacies. When the new prohibition goes into effect on October 1, it will extend to all retail stores and finally to all restaurants in the city starting next summer.

In an effort to encourage customers to bring their own reusable bags whenever they go shopping, the law also imposes a small fee for the use of paper bags. The money generated from these fees won't flow into city coffers; instead, it will be kept by the individual stores.

Any store caught flouting the ban will be fined up to $500 for each violation.

Save the Plastic Bag Coalition attorney Stephen Jospeh said the group plans on appealing the judge's ruling. "We believe we will be successful in appeals court," Joseph told Bay City News.

Joseph's industry-backed group, which argues that paper bags are actually more harmful to the environment than plastic ones, has been suing municipalities across the state on similar grounds. Suits have been filed against Marin County, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Long Beach, Palo Alto and Oakland.

Although a suit filed last year against the Southern California city of Manhattan Beach was unsuccessful in blocking the city's implementation of a ban, the state Supreme Court seemed to indicate that if larger municipalities (such as San Francisco) were to going to subsequently pass plastic bag prohibitions, environmental reports would likely be necessary.

Plastic bags aren't the only portable petrochemical containers under attack in San Francisco. Board of Supervisors President David Chiu has proposed a measure aimed at curbing the prevalence of single-use plastic water bottles by requiring all new and renovated public buildings in the city to include special taps for refilling reusable water bottles.

Such measures to scale back on waste from plastic products is increasingly becoming a priority around the world. Later this month, the Indian capital of Delhi, the world's fifth largest city, will begin to enforce its own ban on plastic bags.

"[Plastic bags] are one of the most common forms of waste found on beaches, and they can have dire consequences for marine life, killing or injuring hundreds of turtles, whales, birds, fish and other marine life every year," wrote Leila Monre, an ocean conservation attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a blog on The Huffington Post. "Over the last 25 years of the International Coastal Cleanup, 7,825,319 plastic bags have been collected from beaches around the world."