San Francisco is moving ahead with plans for the first-ever tax on plastic and paper bags in the United States, after a city commission voted unanimously Jan. 25 to slap a 17 cent fee on each bag at grocery stores.
But it is far from certain that the tax ultimately will be adopted. The idea was popular with residents at a hearing before the city's Commission on the Environment, but Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors member Ross Mirkarimi requested that the city study the impact on low-income consumers before moving ahead. The report will be completed by the end of April, and an aide to Mirkarimi said, ``We're not moving until we get that study back.''
Final approval rests with the mayor and supervisors.
The environment commission, an advisory body, said it supports the tax as a way to reduce litter from the 50 million bags used in the city each year.
San Francisco officials have argued that they spend at least $3 million a year cleaning up bag litter and dealing with contamination from bags at their plastic recycling facilities. Supporters of the tax say the bags waste resources and contribute to ocean pollution, and people should use more environmentally friendly reusable bags.
``These bags, which get tossed in the wind and clogged in storm drains, cost local governments millions of dollars a year in litter abatement and cleanup,'' said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste in Sacramento. ``In the long run, this ordinance will not cost consumers more, it will cost them less.''
Rather than tax the bags, manufacturers want to collect more of them, particularly because plastic lumber and other markets can use all the bags that are collected, said Frank Ruiz, head of the industry group California Film and Bag Alliance. He is also technical director of Heritage Bag Co. in Carrollton, Texas.
``There have not been all that many retailers who have collection bins in the stores,'' Ruiz said. ``We're getting commitments to do that, basically to make it as easy as possible to recycle them.''
Ruiz said bag taxes in other countries, like Ireland, have had unintended consequences, such as causing consumers to buy more trash bags in stores and use them as grocery bags because that winds up being cheaper than paying the tax on store bags. Some places that have taxed bags have seen shoplifting increase because consumers bring in their own opaque bags, he said.
Bag taxes or bans have been popular around the world in recent years, from Ireland to Australia and from Taiwan to South Africa. But outside of a few villages in rural Alaska, no U.S. city has taken that action.