In 2005, San Francisco was contemplating the adoption of the nation's first plastic bag tax aimed at reducing plastic bag litter and waste in the city. A staff analysis found that plastic bags were a significant source of litter in the city, and serious threat to water quality and the marine environment. Similar proposals in Ireland and elsewhere have resulted in a substantial reduction in plastic bag waste.
In an effort to avoid the tax, the grocery chains cut a deal with the Mayor committing them to an effort to reduce plastic generation by 10 million bags in 2006. Thus far, the grocers have failed to provide city officials with any data on the program's results.
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Charles Goodyear quotes Supervisor Mirkarimi: "My Characterization of this voluntary deal was that it was at best a half step. And my fears have come true. This agreement has not moved us an inch forward."
Plastic bags are a huge component of the plastic litter and waste problem. Californians use over 19 billion plastic grocery and merchandise bags a year (552 bags per person), creating 147,000 tons of unnecessary waste in our landfills. As Californians throw away more than 600 bags a second, they are creating enough waste to circle the planet over 250 times in one year. This cycle of one-time use and disposal wastes resources, manufacturing one ton of plastic bags requires 11 barrels of oil--more than one million barrels annually.
To combat the problem of plastic bag litter and waste, last year CAW sponsored AB 2449 by Assembly Member Lloyd Levine. This measure, which takes effect in July, will require grocery stores statewide to takeback and recycle plastic bags, while providing consumers with a reusable bag option.