12/07 Why San Francisco's ban on plastic grocery bags is important?

12/07 Why San Francisco's ban on plastic grocery bags is important? Mark down this day, Tuesday, November 20, 2007, as one where yet again, the Bay Area leads the food world. Northern California has given us Alice Walters and Chez Panisse, Tiburon's cutting edge ban on Trans Fats and now the nation's first ban on plastic grocery bags.

It was almost three years ago that the city's Board of Supervisors considered a 17 cent tax on each petroleum-based plastic grocery bag to force supermarkets and drug stores to use alternative materials that would have less of an impact on the environment and landfills. In San Francisco alone, last year there were about 180 million plastic shopping bags distributed -- which, according to the San Francisco Department of the Environment and Worldwatch Institute took roughly 774,000 gallons of oil to produce.

In a deal with the California Grocers Association, the Board of Supervisors agreed to not impose the tax if large supermarkets would reduce the amount of bags given to shoppers in 2006 by 10 million bags, just a little over 5 percent of the total. Two years later the group said they had reduced the amount by 7.6 million, but fell short of giving the city the proof it had asked for.

So the ban takes effect today.

A lot has happened since the issue was first discussed, and with a renewed interest led by Al Gore and his Academy Award winning documentary in our sustainability and global footprint, San Francisco's ban should make a significant impact.

While the opposition to the ban cite higher prices for consumers, that tact just isn't going to work this time. I know of no shopper who actually finds the typical plastic bag useful or comfortable. We have lived with them when we have no choice. But choices are abundant. Reusable canvas totes, compostable bags made from corn starch, paper bags made from recycled paper are all better options. Tesco's new Fresh & Easy stores actually offer shoppers canvas tote bags "for life" after the initial purchase price of $1 -- they will replace it for free if it breaks.

By April of next year, drug chains will also have to comply with the ban; and there is little doubt that the smaller stores which are not covered by the ruling will follow suit as the new compostable bags become widely available.

It appears that 2008 will be the year that being green is in, hip and becomes mainstream (sorry Kermit!). It seems that the ground swell against plastic beverage bottles, plastic bags and plastic packaging in general will finally force a change for the good of our planet.