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User Fee Proposed for Each Grocery Bag

Associated Press
Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page A07

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 20 -- City officials are considering charging grocery stores 17 cents for each grocery bag to discourage the use of plastic bags.

More than 90 percent of consumers choose plastic bags, which are blamed for everything from clogging recycling machines to killing marine life and suffocating infants. But the fee would also apply to paper bags to help reduce overall waste.

Promoting a healthy environment "means we need to help change people's patterns, and that even means their shopping patterns," said incoming city official Ross Mirkarimi (Green Party), who will join the Board of Supervisors in January. "This is a sensible user fee."

The city's Commission on the Environment will consider the proposal Tuesday. Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) is reviewing the idea.

The city's Department of the Environment estimates that San Francisco customers bring home about 50 million bags each year. That accounts for about 2 percent of waste, at an annual cleanup cost of about $8.4 million.

Grocers and the plastics industry oppose the measure.

"We think essentially it's an unnecessary and misguided approach," said Tim Shestek, spokesman for the American Plastics Council. "This tax is going to hurt those who can least afford it."

State legislators defeated a bill last year that would have charged 2 cents for each nonrecyclable disposable bag.

The San Francisco proposal parallels efforts in Ireland, South Africa, Bangladesh, Australia, China and Taiwan, which ban plastic bags or charge a fee to use them.


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