The dumbest plastic bag argument I’ve seen so far

This story is about the city of San Francisco rolling out a new ordinance intended to further limit the use of disposable bags by retailers. I’ve heard a variety of arguments against the different versions of this kind of law, but this one takes the cake.

Starting Oct. 1, BYOB in San Francisco will take on a whole new meaning.

Then, shoppers will have to bring their own bags when buying booze – and just about anything else – or incur a charge.

The city’s new Checkout Bag Ordinance requires that all retailers, with the exception of restaurants, bakeries and take-out joints (they don’t have to make the change until 2013), switch from plastic bags to paper or compostable and charge customers a dime for each sack.


Jon Ballesteros, vice president of public policy for the San Francisco Travel Association, said he hopes merchants are transparent about the charge. Tourism in San Francisco is an $8 billion business, and Ballesteros wants to make sure visitors are not caught off guard by the ordinance.

But Stephen Joseph, a lawyer for the Save the Plastic Bag coalition, a contingent of bag manufacturers, distributors and citizens, who unsuccessfully sued the city over the ordinance and plans to appeal, said the charge is bound to affect tourism.

“This is no way to welcome visitors,” he said. “Furthermore, it’s going to cause more garbage. What’s going to happen is they’re going to buy those paper bags – it’s not like they’re going to travel to San Francisco with reusable ones – and then they’re going to dump their bags when they get on their plane to leave town.”

Whether reusable bags are eco-friendly or not, Joseph argues that they are “horribly” unsanitary.

“San Francisco is encouraging people to put their food in the same bags they carry their gym clothes, the same bags in which they carry their underwear,” he said. “These bags don’t get washed, and they are filthy.”

Let me count the ways that this is silly.

1. We’re talking a dime a bag. There are legitimate concerns about such a surcharge being a burden on the poor, but I think it’s safe to say that people who vacation in other cities have the disposable income to handle it. A dime a bag, people.

2. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of the visitors Joseph is fretting about are supportive of the bag fee, assuming they even notice it. Most people like the idea of being environmentally responsible. I suppose there may eventually be some kind of culture-war blowback on this sort of thing (assuming there isn’t one already; I haven’t the fortitude to look), but let’s be honest, the kind of person that would sign on for that kind of crusade probably isn’t visiting San Francisco anyway.

3. Joseph seems to be suggesting that people use gym bags to transport their groceries. I don’t know about you, but we have cloth bags that we use for groceries, and that’s all we transport in them. Actually, as often as not we bring a soft-sided cooler as well, to carry perishables. You can wash cloth bags, too. I can’t believe I even have to discuss this.

If this is the best argument the plastic bag industry has to offer, they’re in sad shape.

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One Response to The dumbest plastic bag argument I’ve seen so far

  1. matx says:

    Maybe well-known artists (local and national) could design attractive designs for the plastic bags and it might soften the monetary hit (all of a dime). If it became popular enough, through thoughtful curating and “limited editions” the bags could actually make a profit to pay for themselves and contribute to recycle/reuse campaigns throughout the city.

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