San Francisco plastic shopping bag ban said a national trendsetter

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San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom signs plastic shopping bag ban legislation into law under pleased eye of San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi who led the ordinance through to completion
Photos by John Han

By Pat Murphy
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel

A homegrown flicker of an idea, two years distilling and today resonating beyond US borders, was signed into San Francisco law Friday.

It was never in the bag, when San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi first struck on the idea shoppers by law should be weened off use of plastic shopping bags.

They pollute the environment and their manufacture furthers global warming, the District 5 Supervisor propounded, hoping to soften business opposition by targeting large supermarkets only for plastic bag ban.

Working its way through Board of Supervisors committee review, often pro-business Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier later expanded the ban to large pharmacies such as ubiquitious chain stores Walgreens and Rite-Aid.

Mayor Gavin Newsom went on to instruct his Department of the Enviornment to collaborate in the proposal culminating in 1:30 p.m. signing yesterday in the International Room of City Hall.

Mirkarimi suggested the Bush Administration is yet to “design a master plan that obligates the reduction of green house emissions.”

“Until that really happens, it’s going to be up to US cities to step up to the plate and to do so in vigorous ways,” stated the District 5 Supervisor.

“San Francisco is doing that and one aspect of that message, I believe, is our legislation to help reduce plastic bags by compelling the ban of non-biodegradeable plastic bags in our largest retailers — grocery stories and pharmacies.

“We have for the two years or so since I contemplated, and we have, the introduction of the legislation… arrived obviously at a piece of legislation that resonates well within the elected City Government.

“Stunningly, has resonated well around the world.

“We would have never anticipated… the response that we received literally from all corners of this planet from cities’ representatives, elected officials, advocacy organizations, nonprofits, who have found strong kinship with our efforts here in San Francisco that’s either made them hopeful for the United States or at least for their own locality that they would like to replicate this kind of legislation.

“In a short period since the Board of Supervisors has passed this legislation, we understand that there have been at least 12 US cities who want to see this legislation.

“That to me is a wonderful way to ring in Earth Day.”

Mirkarimi thanked Newsom and the Department of the Environment.

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“Thank you very much to the mayor and to his staff… particulary to the Department of Enviroment, to Jared (Blumenfeld, director of the Department of Environment), to his staff, Mark Westlund, to David Osmond, Robert Haley,” Mirkarimi extended.

“You guys have been steadfast and true. And I want to also identify my aide Boris Delepine who’s been just really true in keeping to this legislation.”

Political courage saw the legislation through to completion, Blumenfeld said.

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Jared Blumenfeld, left, Director of the San Francisco Department of the Enviornment

“We had the political courage with the supervisor and the mayor to take action,” he stated.

“It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of resistance from industry because this is the thing end of the wedge — if San Francisco can do it 12 other cities, as we have heard, are going to do it.

“So they really wanted to make sure that what happened in San Francisco didn’t happen because if it happened here it meant it would happen in Marin, it would happen in St. Louis, now Alaska, New York City.

“All these people have suddenly realized, ‘You know what, it is possible, it is politcally feasible that we can do it.”

Large supermarkets must stop using plastic bags within six month under the legislation. The ordinance requires chain pharmacies to no longer use plastic bags by 2008.

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