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The Demise Of Plastic Grocery Bags?

November 21st, 2007

By Harriet Blake

The day is coming when grocery shoppers will no longer be asked the familiar question, “paper or plastic?” Or if they are, the question will be about a different kind of plastic and a new sort of paper.hemp_value_tote.jpg

The current standard grocery store plastic bag, which is made of a limited resource – oil – and takes at least 500 years to compose, is on its way out, along with the paper bags made of virgin wood pulp from felled trees. Neither are good for the environment. One increases our dependency on oil, clogs landfills and harms wildlife. The other uses energy and water to produce, hurts our ability to curb global warming and to preserve the natural environment.

This week, San Francisco’s major grocery stores are leading the way toward a more responsible future by offering shoppers some alternatives, required under the city’s new “bag ban” law.

Shoppers may bring their own reusable bag, which is the best choice, says Jack Macy, commercial recycling coordinator for San Francisco. (The hemp bag pictured here is sold by Reusablebags.) Or they may use certified compostable plastic bags which are made of a type of plastic that breaks down easily enough to be made into compost. Or finally, shoppers may use a special paper bag composed of 40 percent post-consumer recyclable content.

According to a recent report in the Boston Globe, “one reusable bag can replace nearly 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime.”

If San Francisco residents sacked the use of the traditional plastic bags altogether, they could save an estimated 180 million plastic bags. But for now, smaller grocery stores and other types of retail stores can still use plastic bags, and large grocers will be able to offer the compostable bags.

The San Francisco law went into effect Tuesday (Nov. 20), six months after Mayor Gavin Newsom signed off on the “bag ban” bill. The law targets San Francisco’s biggest grocery stores, says Macy. “These are the ones who do about $2 million or more in business. They are the ones that give out the most plastic bags.” Approximately 54 supermarkets are affected. Pharmacies will be required to follow suit in the spring.

“We realize this is an education process,” says Mr. Macy. “So we really won’t start enforcing the ban until Dec. 1.”

“Our plan is to visit the stores,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of talks and meetings with store managements. Everyone we’ve talked to says they will be in compliance.”

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