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The San Francisco Commission on the Environment unanimously approved a proposal yesterday asking the city to charge grocery shoppers 17 cents for every paper or plastic bag they take home. The proposal now goes to the city’s Board of Supervisors. We reported on this initiative yesterday (commenting that stores could save on bags if they’d just teach baggers how to do their jobs properly), and got a fair amount of email in response…

One MNB user wrote:

Does the consumer get their seventeen cents back if they return the bag?

MNB user Jerry Jewett wrote:

All the regular grocery stores could take Costco’s lead & just put the groceries back in the cart. They do a ton of business without bags & nobody complains.

MNB user Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

I'm torn on this one too. I want to believe and hope that consumers will do the right thing - reuse bags, use reusable bags (cloth) and when they can't or don't, properly dispose of the bags they use. But, unfortunately, they don't. I don't think it's the bagger's fault - it's us as consumers. So, it seems that if we can't behave, our local governments may begin to help us along...Won't be the first time, or the last.

Another MNB user, this one from Seattle, wrote:

At Trader Joe's and our Local Central Market they sell a canvas grocery bag. At Central Market they give us a nickel refund every time we use our canvas bag or recycle an old paper one. Trader Joe's Sells two bags, a canvas bag (I think, it could be very heavy cotton) and one that is quite unique in that they are made of burlap with wooden handles. Plus they have an expandable partition in them that extends from the side when necessary. It allows you to carry bottles of wine (or water) without them clanging together. This folding partition is ten inches in height and allows you to carry up to six 750 ml bottles.

Another MNB user wrote:

Aw, come on Kevin. How is this ever going to reduce trash? Most people reuse the bags in their wastebaskets and the plastic ones when they walk their dog, haul out groceries, etc. This is a tax -- plain and simple -- on consumers. And one that's going to be very difficult for a store to administer, since when we're gong through the check out process (where the 17 cents a bag would be collected), we don't know how many bags will be needed until the bagging is done. What a nightmare.

What does the city plan to do with their millions from it? Increase recycling or create some new spending opportunity. Think about it: If every household uses 5 bag a week (17x5=85 cents x 52 weeks = $44.20 per year.) That's $4,420 for every 1000 households, $442,000 for 100,000 households. Considering that a bag from a department store is really no different than a bag from the grocery tore, my estimate of 5 bags a week per household is about is low as you could get. What a great scheme to take money from everyone. Since it's like a sales tax, it will be the burden on the stores to pay it, even if it isn't collected from consumers. Just another hit for the industry.

Yet another MNB user offered:

I think the answer to waste is to teach baggers how to bag. More than a roll of paper towel and a box of tissue will fit in a bag. When I go to the supermarket I have to ask them to "please fill the bags" and you know, they really do not know what that means. Their idea of filling the bags is a roll of paper towels and a box of tissues. Most of the time I bag my groceries myself - it is quicker and I don't have to cart 100 bags into the house when I get home. As far as the environment, use the PAPER bags and then recycle them by filling them with newspapers and putting them out for the recycle truck.

And another member of the MNB community chimed in:

My first reaction to this is the price. I am used to paying 5c per bag at Aldi for a paper bag. A large amount of groceries could take 5 bags so the tax could add up to about a dollar an order. Not a big amount to the average shopper, but for the poor, every dollar counts. There is a huge difference from five to seventeen cents when multiplied by the number of bags used in a year.

Landfills, schmandfills. Lets really tackle the problem rather than tax people. First of all, paper is not a landfill problem, unless it is tightly compacted as in newspapers. Packaging is the huge issue. Recently our city began a recycling program so I have become painfully aware of packaging.

Boxes, plastic, cellophane, Styrofoam is stuff that fills landfills. Packaging is the price we pay for convenience and the need for less manpower. I remember shopping at the local butcher shop as a child, here meat was wrapped in a white piece of paper with a white string around it. We had a string ball at our house and re-used most of that white string. We used paper grocery bags for many other things and never threw one away unless it was torn. We used meat paper to wrap potato peelings for the garbage can.

Now come plastic bags on the scene. First of all, they do not decompose rapidly. Secondly, they are easily caught in the air. A lot more of those end up where they do not belong. A paper bag caught by the wind will end up eventually on the ground where getting wet in rain/snow will rapidly begin the decomposition process. Plastic bags are caught in trees, fences, and cause a road hazard occasionally by flying in front of a windshield. Yet the grocery stores continue to have the sackers say "Is plastic OK". No, plastic is not OK. It might be easier for the sacker and cheaper for the grocer, but I do not want the bags in my trunk or my house. I do not want to recycle them. Groceries in them are more difficult to handle. I do recycle all my paper bags. Thrift stores, garage sales, etc will reuse them happily. Paper comes from a renewable resource--trees. Plastic uses chemicals not renewable. (I know that some plastic is made from corn, which is renewable).

Another politically correct idea lacking common sense.

MNB user Mark Rodrigues wrote:

Your article about the San Francisco Commission on the Environment asking the mayor to consider mandating a 17-cent per bag charge for every paper and plastic bag used in supermarkets is of course a good thing for everyone, especially the environment. The enormous amount of bags that leave the grocery store each week ultimately end up in the landfill. Everyone knows that the best "R" in the "3R's" is Reduce before Reuse and Recycle. Loblaw Companies stores in Canada have offered its customers "Green" re-useable plastic bins for their grocery shopping for many years. However, even though you get credit for using them, in this "disposal" world of Big SUV's there is not much consumer interest. I think a "green" or "garbage" tax is going to be the way of the future.
KC's View: