San Francisco’s idiotic bag ban


Here’s an opinion from my colleague Ivan Lerner about San Francisco’s recent regulation on plastic bags. The article, titled “Rally round the bag” was published on the Endpoint section of ICIS Chemical Business magazine (January 28, 2008).

San Francisco has become the first US city to ban plastic bags, meaning that litter will no longer be a problem there.

Oh, and the Golden Gate Bridge is for sale, too!

By Ivan Lerner/New York

Banning plastic bags will not stop people from being morons and filthy slobs.

There are no health or safety issues intrinsic to plastic bags. They are only bad if you do something stupid like put one over your head and it seems as if the biggest complaint against them is their status as trash littering the landscape, which I agree with: I hate litter and wish I knew kung fu so I could force litterbugs to clean up after themselves.

It might not be fair of me to side with the industry and be pro-plastic bag recycling, but San Francisco’s ban (implemented in November) smacks of an act taken because it sounded “nice.”

Here in The Big Apple, the city council has just passed the New York City Plastic Carryout Bag Recycling Law, which requires stores in the five boroughs that occupy 5,000 square feet (465m²) or more to set up an in-store recycling program for bags.

Now, will this stop littering in New York? Not at first, but shopkeepers, grumbling about lost space for merchandise, are going to make sure customers are aware of the program: “Hey! Bring those @#!* bags back and recycle! Donchu care ’bout Mudda Nature!?!”

I suppose it is more important for San Francisco’s civic nannies to impose their will, rather than educate consumers to conserve, either by recycling, reusing bags or by buying a European-style canvas shopping bag to use.

Good times, Bag times

In a survey commissioned by Telles, a joint venture between Metabolix, a biodegradable plastics manufacturer, and agricultural processor Archer Daniels Midland, 40% of Americans who responded thought standard petroleum-based plastic bags, however you dispose them, would biodegrade.

In their favor, though, when informed that their opinions on the biodegradability of plastic bags were erroneous, 50% of respondents said they would be willing to pay an extra 5-10% for biodegradable plastics.

But “biodegradable” doesn’t mean “poof – it vanishes into pixie dust as soon as you are done unpacking your groceries.”

If you toss a biodegradable bag out of the window of your car, it will get tangled in the branches of a tree or litter the side of the road, just like anything you toss from your car window.

5 Responses to San Francisco’s idiotic bag ban

  1. Bag Monster Buster 5 February, 2008 at 1:17 am #

    “There are no health or safety issues intrinsic to plastic bags.”

    Research shows that in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, tiny toxic bits of plastic outnumber plankton 6 to 1. Plastic shopping bags often wind up in the ocean where they break up into tiny toxic pieces. They act as sponges for toxic waste the known carcinogen, PCB. Toxics of this sort are found in concentrations of up to a million times higher than in the water that surrounds the samples. The plastic bits (and toxic waste) are consumed by animals that think they are plankton. The toxic matter moves up the food chain all the way to our grocery stores and our bodies. Human health is directly connected to ocean health.
    See what scientists have to say at

  2. patrick 12 February, 2008 at 2:44 am #

    If there’s one thing oil is good for, it’s for making plastic. Plastic is cheap, sanitary and easy to recycle.

    Ironically, plastic bags are the most re-used form of garbage there is. It’s also ironic that we’re cutting down more trees to save the environment (in the case of paper bag alternatives).

    For the average, bill-paying citizen, the ban on plastic bags means spending more time, money and energy carrying his/her groceries home. Meanwhile, oil consumption will not decrease. Huge SUVs keep rolling out while petroleum companies continue to whimsically raise the price of gas.

    Banning the use of plastic bags is an environmental red-herring. Obviously throwing plastic bags on the ground is not good. That’s why there are fines for littering. But, between pouring oil into the atmosphere and throwing plastic bags on the ground, the former seems worse. I wonder, what is the equivalent in plastic bags to an average car’s 25-gallon gas tank?

  3. Bag Monster Buster 29 March, 2008 at 12:00 am #

    patrick: If there’s one thing plastic is good for, it’s making SOLAR PANELS that reduce dependence on oil.

    Single-use bags (paper AND plastic) are a ridiculously bad use of resources. Process it, ship it, use it once or twice, then send it to a landfill? That’s a horrible use for plastic.

    Plastic bags typically get reused as a container for trash on its way to a landfill. Does it make a big difference if it’s reused in route to the dump? Nope.

    Check it out, moving beyond single-use bags saves average bill paying citizens like us 5 cents for every reusable bag used in the place of a paper or plastic bag. Yep, stores credit you a nickel for each bag you bring in. Reusable bags carry way more than single-use bags and you can get one for as little as a dollar. Use it 20 times, and after that you’re MAKING PROFIT BY CHOOSING TO REUSE!

    As for environmental red herring, SUVs guzzling gas doesn’t make it cool to have a single-use bag addiction. Adopt a consistent reusable bag habit and be happy.

  4. Alfred 3 August, 2009 at 4:35 pm #

    Honestly, I think that this ban is a good thing. Granted, a paper bag can cause litter too, but unlike plastic, it will be dissolved pretty quickly in the ground naturally.

    It’s pretty amazing that something so obvious can go over the head of someone writing in a blog about green developments.

  5. Doris 3 August, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    Hi Alfred,
    Just wanted to emphasize that this article is not of the opinion of the green blog but from a colleague of mine.

    That said, I am in favor of a biodegradable AND compostable AND recyclable plastic bag as many citizens of this country are responsible enough to dispose/recycle their trash properly.

    Recycled paper bags are good if you don’t have heavy/wet goods to put in it (and if it’s not raining) otherwise it’s just a waste of materials and production energy if they are easily ripped and can’t be used.

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