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Small Business Commission Supports Plans to Charge 25 Cents per Checkout Bag

by Andrea Stojanović

As a part of San Francisco’s recent initiative to encourage the use of reusables, the city’s shoppers might start getting charged 25 cents per plastic checkout bag.  

The business advisory panel stood in support of Supervisor Vallie Brown’s proposal to raise the charge on checkout bags. On Monday, the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee will vote on the proposal. If approved, it would take effect in July 2020.

According to the new legislation, pre-checkout plastic bags should be banned entirely. Mainly used for produce and bulk items, these bags ought to be replaced with recyclable or compostable variants. The commission unanimously recommended legislation approval.

The ultimate goal is to get rid of paper bags as well, by prioritizing the use of reusable bags as the one solution that’s the least damaging to the environment. 

In ten other cities in California, the current checkout bag fee is 10 cents. The price hike is intended to boost the use of reusables and cut down on waste. 

On the other hand, Small Business Commission Vice President Mark Dwight said that assessing the true effectiveness and financial impact of the new fee might be harder than we thought. He suggested the legislation might not address the problem adequately, despite its good intentions, in part because of a lack of data. 

The Department of Environment has agreed to do a study on the current use of plastic and reusable bags, the San Francisco Examiner confirmed Wednesday. Before the new legislation takes effect, it would be a good idea to estimate the number of people who use reusable bags. The success of the new legislation will then be easier to measure. 

A 2012 informal survey following the introduction of the 10 cent bag fee revealed that around 60% of shoppers bring their own, reusable bags. Department officials who conducted the survey also keep track of the statistics throughout the state. They noted that 90% of shoppers bring their own bags in other jurisdictions with 25 cent fees.  

Small Business Commission chair Stephen Adams took issue with the charge but ultimately voted for the proposal. 

“I don’t like this,” Adams said. “I worry about the poor and low-income people, who do bring a bag but for whatever reason what if they forget?”

Brown added that people on food stamps would not be required to pay for the bags. 

Alexa Kelty, a zero waste specialist at the San Francisco Department of the Environment, warned about the dangers of thicker plastic bags as the more affordable replacements for paper bags. The 2016 voter-approved state law allows the use of thicker plastic bags, and the new legislation should limit or otherwise put an end to this trend. 

Still, plastic bags aren’t Brown’s only concern. She also wants to address the materials used in home deliveries, such as Amazon products and meal kits. The city officials should look into limiting the use of materials such as bubble wrap and plastic meal kits.  

Department store plastic bags are only a part of the recycling issues San Francisco has to address, and Brown believes that “ there will be another piece of legislation addressing that.”

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