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What’s next? Ban on plastic straws, dime for paper ones?

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POSTED September 20, 2012 10:26 p.m.

The cost of shopping in San Francisco is going up Oct. 1.

That’s because the courts have given a green light to that city’s new plastic and paper bag rules.

Whether you shop at a corner grocery store, Union Square or a tourist trap you must pay 10 cents per bag - paper or plastic - that you use to fill with items you purchase.

No worry if you are poor - as long as you receive food stamps. The leaders of San Francisco are giving food stamp recipients a pass on the 10 cent per bag charge.

In addition plastic bags will now have to meet a minimum thickness.

So why does this concern you? After all, you don’t live in San Francisco and rarely shop there. But what has happened is 45 cities - roughly a tenth of California’s municipalities - and seven counties have adopted restrictions of some type on plastic bag use. But rarely are any two jurisdictions alike when it comes to the rules.

Alameda County, starting Jan. 1, 2013, is banning plastic bags and requiring a 10 cent charge for paper bags. But it’s not carte blanche. It only applies to grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies. San Jose has prohibited the use of all plastic bags while requiring a 10 cent charge for a paper bag.

You’d think that a state with 37.7 million people, many of whom have a tendency to cover large distances during the day to work, shop, and play, would adopt a uniform law governing bags - paper or plastic.

Yes, it makes sense to reduce plastic bags in our landfills but it makes sense to reduce the amount of plastic straws in our landfills, too. Perhaps San Francisco can lead the way and require places dispensing drinks with straws to charge a dime for paper ones while banning those made of plastic.

That just might get people to tote around reusable straws along with reusable shopping bags.

Banning plastic straws sounds absurd now but keep in mind 30 years ago banning plastic bags sounded absurd to most people as well.

What is needed is uniformity and not a chiseling away at general rules of commerce one jurisdiction at a time. The battle should - and will have to - take place at the state level. And whatever laws the state adopts governing plastic bags and such need to supersede all other edicts of local jurisdictions. If not, we will continue to balkanize California via local general day-to-day commerce regulations that should be the same statewide.

Personally, I often ask clerks not to put things in bags. I also use reusable shopping bags for groceries.

That said, I know more than a few people who will tell you it is easier to carry 10 plastic bags of items than everything jammed into one or two reusable shopping totes.

That means in all likelihood the strategy that charges a dime for plastic bags - such as in San Francisco - will probably have minimal impact on reducing buried waste while it will drive up the cost of day-to-day living a dime at a time.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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