If You're Gooiiiing To San Francisco...Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair

Just make sure they're not plastic.

San Francisco, West Coast home to the Beats, epicenter of the hippie menace, hometown to Dirty Harry Callahan and the Full House commune, and long the self-styled Ground Zero of ribald, alternative lifestyles in America, has banned conventional plastic bags in grocery stores. The AP reports:

The law, passed by a 10-1 vote, requires large markets and drug stores to give customers only a choice among bags made of paper that can be recycled, plastic that breaks down easily enough to be made into compost, or reusable cloth.

San Francisco supervisors and supporters said that by banning the petroleum-based sacks, blamed for littering streets and choking marine life, the measure would go a long way toward helping the city earn its green stripes....

The 50 grocery stores that would be most affected by the law argued that the ban was not reasonable because plastic bags made of corn byproducts are a relatively new, expensive and untested product. Some said they might offer only paper bags at checkout.

...Craig Noble, a spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it would be disappointing if grocers rejected the biodegradable plastic bag option, since more trees would have to be cut down if paper bag use increases....

Got that? A green ordiance may increase the use of paper bags!

But can you imagine? A plastic bag ban in a major city! What's next? Smoking? Trans fat? Listening to music while crossing the street? And just how long will it be until we realize that corn kills?

Full story here.

Reason readers might have thought that San Franciscans--named after one of the great empathizers in all of Catholic history--would have been too busy petitioning zoning boards to keep legal medical marijuana dispensaries out of their neighborhoods to have time with this inane restriction.

Update: One word: Dematerialization, which means that today's products--especially today's plastic products, routinely use much less material, resources, etc to produce than they did in the past. Between 1976 and 1990, for instance, the thickness of plastic "carrier bags" was reduced by one-third with no loss in strength (I assume progress has marched on since then, though I've got no current numbers). Something similar happened to plastic milk jugs. And to aluminum cans, etc.

At the same time, mandates to employ ostensibly "green-friendly" dictates can freeze such innovation in its tracks (surely one reason hybrid cars took so long to get started was California's mandate for zero-emission vehicles, which acted as a tax on carmakers and forced them to focus on undeveloped battery technology rather alternative methods of decreasing automobile emissions). Former president of Reason Foundation (the nonprofit that publishes Reason Online and Reason magazine) Lynn Scarlett, now deputy secretary of the Department of the Interior, wrote about dematerialization and its discontents here.

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  • ____________||

    It just keeps getting worse...

  • ||

    Something tells me St Francis would not have been down with hippies. While his modern image is that of a flower child, in reality he was extremely strict both in his personal beliefs and in his dealings with his monks.

  • Kenneth||

    Ireland introduced a plastic bag levy of 15 cent (euro cent) at the consumer end some three years ago, plastic bag litter on the streets disappeared almost over night. And with regards to killing more trees for the creation of the paper bag option - aren't there more trees in the US then in 1920, doesn't the need for paper bags actually increase the amount of trees?

  • ||

    On the one hand this seems stupid. On the other, if the plastic bags are dumped everywhere and gumming up the sewers, etc, it would actually be addressing a real problem unlike the smoking ban, trans fat ban, etc. A plastic bag deposit might work, but that'd probably be expensive to administer. (My grocery stores have self checkout, so you don't have a bagger or cashier involved anywhere.)

  • Dave W.||

    Will be interesting to see whether this leads to improvements in plastic bag design. I think it might.

    I lived in the Bay Area when the styrofoam ban was the latest outrage. And, in hindsight now, you know what . . .

  • ||

    I wonder when we'll see the breaking point on this kind of legislation- when trying to keep up with the piecemeal bans on the environmental scourge of the month becomes too expensive a proposition and stores give up and move out of state.

  • ||

    As much as I hate plastic bags, a ban?

    At most stores in NE Ohio, you have to specifically ask for paper and deal with the indignant sighs of the clerk bagging your groceries. That's if they have any paper around at all.

  • ||

    Ass clowns!

  • Tom Accuosti||

    The secondary problem is that despite the biodegradability of paper, it takes a hell of a lot more energy to process the wood pulp to make the paper, and the chemicals used aren't exactly environmentally friendly.

    Maybe they should encourage shoppers to bring backpacks, instead.

  • Dave W.||

    becomes too expensive a proposition and stores give up and move out of state.

    If that doesn't happen, then what conclusion will you draw?

  • ||

    Our German houseguest, used to shopping at Alde, made the mistake one time of taking her mesh bag to the local Publix store. The on duty police person stopped her (inside the store, prior to checkout) to question her about what she was doing.

    I'm in favor of the "bring your own bag" concept, but there may be a short period of adjustment required. The financial incentive (paper bag 10 cents, plastic bag 15 cents) is probably the best solution.

    CB

  • ||

    I'm in favor of leaving people the fuck alone, not fining people who disagree with me on something as trivial as what kind of bag to put their groceries in.

    But that's just me.

  • ||

    If littering was punished by a mandatory death sentence, it would slow way way down. And bullshit bans wouldnt be necessary.

  • Dave W.||

    I'm in favor of leaving people the fuck alone, not fining people who disagree with me on something as trivial as what kind of bag to put their groceries in.

    In Dallas the problem is liquor sales zoning, not bags or styrofoam, silly rablit!

    That is the unsung beauty of local bans -- we get to choose the particular brand of nannystatism that personally appeals to each of us most.

    Some go Madison to Dallas. Others Dallas to Berkeley. In the end, everybody is happy!

  • dave W.||

    Update: One word: Dematerialization [blah, blah, blah]

    Another word: decentralization. when a variety of different regulatory schemes are in place in different locales, the decentralized process of trial and error lead us, as a larger society and over time, most quickly to environmentally optimal solutions. Better than a complete lack of regulation. Better than no (genuine externality compensating) regulation at all.

  • VM||

    Between dematerialization and disintermediation, it's a wonder that there's anything to do. Oh yeah - become a bureaucrat!

    *jabs self in eye with pencil (real lead one to piss off the enviros).

  • Baylen||

    Nick Gillespie is an errand boy, sent by grocery bags.

  • ||

    Dave W,

    "If that doesn't happen, then what conclusion will you draw?"

    Oh, I know, that the law must be fair because people tolerate it! Did I get it right?

  • Christopher Monnier||

    While dematerialization might reduce the amount of material going into plastic bags, the bags still are [apparently] a pollution and/or environmental problem. The least liberty-infringing way to handle the problem of littering would be to simply fine people that litter. I'm guessing they already do that in San Francisco and they still have a problem.

    So, instead of hiring more police officers or installing security cameras to fight the War on Litter, they're choosing to eliminate (through legal channels, at least) the source of the problem. In that sense, it's somewhat pragmatic and not all that bad. I'd rather have plastic bags be banned then have cops constantly on the lookout for litterbugs.

    On a different note, New York and Chicago were scooped on this! How long before they up the ante and ban all shopping bags, instead requiring customers to bring their own cloth bags or boxes?

  • ||

    In my observations at the grocery store, the bag boys / girls use way too many bags. They place 3 or 4 small items in a bag and move on to the next bag...a complete waste of resources.

  • I.Self.Divine.||

    Jimmy: Ever been carrying 7 or 8 grocery bags and had one of them break? There are few things more frustrating. I'm guessing that the grcery boys/girls you're referring to have probably had a run-in or at least witnessed a run-in with an angry customer whose shoes are covered in Yoplait.

  • ||

    JimmyDaGeek,

    And they double-bag anything that weighs over a pound or so to make sure that Mrs. Soccermom can get everything from the Landrover to the stylish kitchen without anything dropping. You don't want to piss off Mrs. Soccermom!

  • ||

    And what will one pick up dogshit with now?

  • ||

    >de stijl

    Or, more likely, to help Mr. Old-Man-Who-Can't-Bend-Over. Or maybe just to keep the milk jug from bursting open when it hits the pavement.

    But GREAT rant on "Soccermoms!" All you needed to make it perfect was a reference to all those "sheeple" in the evil "suburbs."

  • ||

    I have seen/ read/ been told that plastic bags, in the greater scheme of things, are actually "greener" than paper. Based on total energy consumption, chemical processes, et c. Also, the corn(!) based "biodegradable" plastics only break down in direct sunlight, and are as permanent as real plastic when buried in a landfill.
    I have no citations; these could be urban myths perpetuated by the duplicitous minions of Big Plastic. Any one have verification?

  • eb||

    In Ukraine they charge you per bag not because of a levy like in Ireland mentioned above, but because they don't give anything away in Ukraine. Most people bring their own bags as a result (most are plastic bags that they paid for in previous visits.)

    I don't know how any of the major markets could do it if the others didn't also do it but it certainly cuts back on waste.

  • I. Self. Divine.||

    Tax breaks for stores that encourage customers to reuse bags or bring their own?

  • Mike Laursen||

    I wonder when we'll see the breaking point on this kind of legislation

    It might break down elsewhere, but San Franciscans have a virtually unlimited capacity for smugness.

  • Dave W.||

    Poster one: [If the bag ban] becomes too expensive a proposition [then] stores [will] give up and move out of state [sic, city].

    Dave W.: If that doesn't happen, then what conclusion will you draw?

    Poster two: Oh, I know, that the law must be fair because people tolerate it! Did I get it right?


    No. Didn't you take regents level math at your local public school, Coolrabbi? the conditional statement is logically equivalent to its contrapositive. the rule works like this:

    When the statement:

    "If X then Y." has a boolean truth value of true, then so will the statement:

    "If not(Y) then not(X)."

    Applying that to Poster One's statement, we get the equivalent as:

    If stores do not move out of the city, then the bag ban has not become too expensive a proposition.

  • Guy Montag||

    aren't there more trees in the US then in 1920, doesn't the need for paper bags actually increase the amount of trees?

    Yes, but don't try telling that to a tree hugging hippie.

    Now, this corn starch bag thing as been around for well over 10 years, I hesitate to say 20. If anybody has LEXUS/NEXUS they can find this entire press 'debate' in the ancient archives.

    What is the deal with rerunning these silly 'ideas' through councils and editors every decade or two? I used to think it was just younger folks not bothering to listen to older folks who remember the last time something stupid was tried. Now I am begginning to think it is just stupid old folks convincing naieve young folks that the stupid ideas were just not tried "right".

    Stay tuned for the turbine engine car! More horsepower to weight ratio! Tiny engines are more efficient and will solve our biodiesel shortage! (forget that Chrysler tried it in the 50s and it will not work)

  • Guy Montag||

    In Ukraine they charge you per bag not because of a levy like in Ireland mentioned above, but because they don't give anything away in Ukraine. Most people bring their own bags as a result (most are plastic bags that they paid for in previous visits.)

    In Shoppers Food Warehouse stores (near DC anyway) they used to charge per bag at checkout and you bagged your own groceries.

    The finally stopped charging for bags. Forgot if they have baggers now.

  • Evan McElravy||

    Eric S.: Exactly. No dog owners in S.F.? We should organize a pool on the month and year an inundation of doo becomes the next Frisco cause celebre demanding IMMEDIATE GOVERNMENT ACTION.

  • ||

    Shocked, shocked I am to see a Reason writer talk out their nether regions on an environmental issue.

    California's ZEV mandate, in its second, PZEV form, was one of the primary reasons Toyota developed the Prius, which is actually tuned more for low emissions than for high mileage.

  • ||

    Personally, I hate plastic bags.

    The place where I shop (Whole Foods and Trader Joes) has quality paper bags -- ones with handles on them that allow you to carry them in the same manner as plastic (multiple bags per free hand) -- oh and at Whole Foods, if I bring my bags back and reuse them, I get a $.10 refund as incentive.

    In contrast, at the local Jewel, the paper bags have no handles so I get plastic. I made the mistake once of getting paper and I realized that without handles I can only carry 1-2 at a time.

    What would take up about 10 plastic bags can usually fit in two paper bags. And most the baggers at Jewel are idiots. They bag things in the least efficient manner possible.

    Now I don't like the idea of banning plastic bags, but if they really are an environmental problem I don't see it as problematic to require that any plastic bags be compostable.

  • ||

    http://www.ehow.com/how_10885_recycle-plastic-grocery.html

    Plastic grocery bags are easy to recyle...maybe SF needs to look into better integration of recycling into its waste removal so that these plastic bags are included in the curbside pick-up.

    http://www.sfenvironment.com/aboutus/recycling/pickup.htm

  • Sean Healy||

    What a bunch of crybabies. I live in Ireland. When the levy was introduced I bought four large, durable bags with handles (produced on behalf of my grocery store) for the price of twenty plastic bags each. I've had them for about four years, use them every week and they're showing little wear and tear. This is a policy with a good outcome and no discernible bad side effects, but because a government thought it up and imposed it , it must be bad - right?

  • ||

    "...because a government thought it up and imposed it , it must be bad - right?"

    Yup.

  • ||

    In Ukraine they charge you per bag...

    In Soviet Union, they bag YOU!

  • ||

    "...because a government thought it up and imposed it , it must be bad - right?"

    To elaborate on P Brooks elegantly pithy response, it's bad because the gov't, when it comes down to it, is pointing a gun at our heads to force us to comply.
    Read up on the goddam non-aggression principle before I am forced to visit your beautiful country and stick my boot up your ass. :)

  • Guy Montag||

    This can easily be traced back to the nonsense about saving trees. Plastic bags were imposed to save trees. Now it is about "big oil" making plastic bags.

    This stupid ping-pong game is almost as funny as the saturated -> polyunsaturated -> hydrogenated vegetable transfat -> saturated fat circle. Don't forget the whole cholesterol issue and tropical oils (palm oil being one, which is now a substitute for transfats).

    Yes, I am sure I forgot some stage of silliness there.

  • VikingMoose||

    "I live in Ireland."

    okay. so it sucks to be you. next question?

  • ||

    "Another word: decentralization. when a variety of different regulatory schemes are in place in different locales, the decentralized process of trial and error lead us, as a larger society and over time, most quickly to environmentally optimal solutions. Better than a complete lack of regulation. Better than no (genuine externality compensating) regulation at all."

    This becomes less of a feature and more of a menace when larger regional or national companies are involved.

    If a company (Ralph's for example) has stores in SF and in Bakersfield, suddenly they have to stock two different kinds of bags, which increases logistical difficulties in terms of inventory keeping and supply chain management. So they just switch to the biodegradable kind, even though they may not be the best option in terms of cost-utility. Surprise Bakersfield! Frisco's callin the shots now.

    Then, Ralph's bag supplier in New Mexico or somewhere suddenly has to offer these BD bags or lose a huge customer, increasing the costs of business, possibly just switching to BDs if its less expensive to just deal in one product. Then the suppliers customers in the other western states are stuck with the choice of inferior/more costly bags or trying to integrate a new supplier into their supply chain. So the whole region (or possibly even more) is affected by this decision in SF.

    San Francisco (among other large cities) is affecting a national policy with this ordinance. And of course you know who picks up the costs of these changes.

  • ||

    I solved the problem at my local market by refusing all bags!!! I leave my stuff on the check out counter, walk back and forth, back and forth, carrying only those things I can make in one trip., totally disrupting the check out line. I am green, hear my song.!! The manager hates me but since I wear a shirt and shoes, he can't do much about it. I am green, hear my song !!

  • ||

    San Francisco (among other large cities) is affecting a national policy with this ordinance. And of course you know who picks up the costs of these changes.

    How is this really different than any other local or state ordinances for chains that operate in different locales?

    That seems to be one of the costs of being a chain. You have to deal with local ordinances at the the state or at the local level wherever you want to do business.

  • Dave W.||

    This becomes less of a feature and more of a menace . . . Frisco's callin the shots now.

    Awww, now you got me playing my violin. Guess the size!

  • ||

    Every day I'm a little closer to installing that famous filter.

    Hey, filterers, have you ever considered naming in honor of a certain idiot?

  • ||

    Dave W,

    Don't you realize that the biodegradable plastic bags just put more money in the pocket of Big Corn?

    In any case, if there's a problem with plastic bags being thrown into the street, why not just enforce the existing litter laws?

  • ||

    Dave W,

    Thanks for the lesson. Your point was merely tautological? I call bullshit.

  • Russ 2000||

    A green ordiance may increase the use of paper bags!

    It will also increase driving.

    I routinely walk to the grocery store since plastic bags became common. So much easier to carry becaue of their flexibility that I can carry about 12 of them home. Put that content into paper bags, with or without handles, and I'll have to fumble with 4 paper bags on the way home. If I have to fumble with 4 paper bags, I'm gonna drive to the store so I'm only fumbling with them from the garage to the kitchen.

  • ||

    And what will one pick up dogshit with now?

    As a dog owner, that also was my first question when I read this. Of course in SF, from what I understand, the issue is also what you use to pick up after the homeless guy who shits in your yard. But that's another issue.

  • Dave W.||

    Don't you realize that the biodegradable plastic bags just put more money in the pocket of Big Corn?

    I actually had to ease up on Big Corn to a considerable lately, personally humbling tho that was. My shame:

    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/119126.html#659466

    (Now I know how Ray-Ray feels every day of his life!)

    In any case, if there's a problem with plastic bags being thrown into the street, why not just enforce the existing litter laws?

    Like I said, "decentralization." You don't live in S.F. Do something constructive, like lobbying for such a change in your own city, if you think that is really the way to go. If you build the optimal system, they will come.

    Side note to "Coolrabs": Thank you for endorsing my conclusion.

  • Mike Laursen||

    California's ZEV mandate, in its second, PZEV form, was one of the primary reasons Toyota developed the Prius, which is actually tuned more for low emissions than for high mileage.

    Yes, nobody would have developed a car that gets better gas mileage unless we forced them to. Nobody would replace their incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents that save on their monthly energy bills unless we force them to. If something is good for the environment and saves money, people will choose alternatives that cost more money to make sure they are harming the environment.

  • Russ 2000||

    one of the primary reasons Toyota developed the Prius,

    The gas-electric hybrid isn't new technology, it's from the 19th century! (Just barely, 1898, but it helps make the point.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas-Electric_Hybrid

  • ||

    City mandates that people must use crappy grocery bags that break or are difficult to carry or more expensive (and the bags naturally fall into one of these categories, otherwise they would already be in use)... People respond to driving to the store instead of walking (or drive to a suburban store without all the damn regulations, or move to a suburb!!!)

    See, it is not important that the government actually determine if a law actually is effective, or if there are unforseen consequences to the law. The city of San Fran would never do a pilot program first, to actually collect some data on what effects the law will have on real consumers.

    A bunch of smug self-loathing bourgeois have determines that "green" is the new socially acceptable model of conspicuous consumption... and have determined that that the more expensive and difficult and option is, the "better" it is for the "planet". Since the rich have the time and resources to deal with the difficulty and expense with being "green", and the poor don't, it gives the rich people a chance to show off their wealth and at the same time assert their moral superiority over the poor and "backward".

    It doesn't matter if this law does EXTRA damage to the enviornment, because the law is about promoting the social status of the wealthy (and the middle class aspiring to be seen as wealthy)! The upper classes have always figured out a way to brand the lifestyle of greater wealth as being morally superior - The only difference between now and Victorian times is that the rich are actually mandating the conspicious consumption through the coersive power of the state, on people who can't afford it.

  • megs||

    Sometimes I like living in Ottawa. We had a big push towards those more expensive/energy efficient bulbs with coupons, not bans. And grocery chains here offer us cheap reusable bags and are very bring your own bag friendly, and it turns out a lot of people do this voluntarily!
    Sometimes I can forgive them the health care and gov't liquor stores when the people here do things without asking the government to force everyone to do the same, and business realize they can court shoppers by appearing environmentally friendly. Tossing plastic bags isn't the greatest thing in the world and less of them would be great, but hello SF, try ASKING, not commanding, okay? It works pretty darn well.

  • Roberto Leibman||

    This is soooo stupid!
    Paper bags are much worse for the environment than plastic bags:
    - They take trees.
    - They take much more space than plastic bags. Up to 3 times as much. That's 3 times the number of trucks on the streets, three times the storage area in supermarkets.
    - They are just as biodegradable as plastic bags... when you place them in a landfill without any air exchange for bugs to compost them they take very long to biodegrade.

    Ecology is (or at least should be) a science: not a political movement, if you have an environmental problem find a scientific or technological solution, not a political one.

  • ||

    Christopher:

    "The least liberty-infringing way to handle the problem of littering would be to simply fine people that litter. I'm guessing they already do that in San Francisco and they still have a problem."

    Not bloody likely, but wouldn't it be nice?

    ChrisO:

    "Of course in SF, from what I understand, the issue is also what you use to pick up after the homeless guy who shits in your yard."

    Most people just hose it into the gutter. From there, of course, it goes into the bay.

  • ||

    When people run out of real problems to solve, they tend to invent them.

  • Sean Healy||

    Hey, geniuses, paper is not the only alternative to disposable plastic. Durable plastic bags with handles (like the ones I use in Ireland) work better than the old shitty plastic ones.

    Even from a libertarian perspective, the problem of disposable plastic bags should be obvious: they're free at the store but impose costs on everybody. The litter situation in Ireland has improved immeasurably since the introduction of the levy, which is essentially a 'polluter pays' policy - why gainsay that in the service of some abstract principle about who is enforcing the change? Do I understand that people here would prefer to bear the cost of plastic bags collectively rather than impose costs individually?

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