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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Plastic Bag Boosters Sue San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A law that prohibits San Francisco restaurants and retailers from using plastic bags will actually hurt the environment, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition claims.

The Plastic Bag Coalition, whose members include California-based Crown Poly and Grand Packaging, asked the Superior Court to enjoin enforcement of the city's new rule. It claims the rule, adopted on Valentine's Day, violates the California Environmental Quality Act and the California Retail Food Code.

Ordinance No. 33-12 bans plastic carryout bags at retail stores, restaurants and other food establishments, and requires that consumers pay a 10-cent fee for each paper or compostable carryout bag.

Retail stores must switch from plastic to paper or reusable bags by Oct. 1. Restaurants must follow suit by July 2013.

The coalition says it asked the city to prepare an environmental impact report on the different bags, to which the City and County of San Francisco did not respond.

The coalition claims the ordinance will have "significant negative effect on the environment," because paper bags take more energy to produce than plastic ones.

Plaintiffs say their objections went ignored by the Planning Department, the Board of Supervisors and the city attorney.

Citing a "Scottish Report," the coalition claims manufacture of paper bags increases greenhouse gas emissions and acid rain.

They claim that a report from Los Angeles County found that a reusable bag must be used at least 104 times before it offsets its greater negative environmental impacts than a plastic bag.

"The fact that a reusable bag can be used 104 or more times does not mean that it will be used that many times, especially as reusable bags become filthy and unhygienic after far fewer uses than that," the complaint states.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors said the ordinance was exempt from the state's Environmental Quality Act and refused to do an environmental assessment, the complaint states.

According to the complaint: "The California Supreme Court ruled in July 2011 that cities and counties larger than the City of Manhattan Beach 'will be required' to prepare EIRs before banning plastic bags and that such projects 'should not be allowed to escape review.'

"The population of San Francisco in 2010 was 805,235, meaning that it is approximately 24 times larger than the City of Manhattan Beach.

"In addition, San Francisco hosted approximately 15.9 million visitors and tourists in 2010.

"Based on the decision of the Supreme Court in Manhattan Beach, the city or the planning department was required to prepare and EIR before adopting the ordinance. ...

"Therefore, there is no blanket exemption for this type of project." (Citations omitted.)

The coalition also scoffed at the new, 10-cent fee.

"A 10-cent fee is, or may be, far too low to act as an effective incentive to promote the use of reusable bags. No one will carry a reusable bag with them for unplanned impulse buying. Very few people will carry a reusable bag to Macy's or other department stores to save a dime. Very few people will carry a large reusable bag to purchase one or two small items such as earrings or a watch or a snack from Union Square or Chinatown. Very few tourists will carry reusable bags when they visit Fisherman's Wharf and tour the city," the complaint states.

The coalition adds: "It is unreasonable to expect tourists to carry reusable bags with them all the time. ... San Francisco will be flooded with millions of underused non-recyclable, environment-unfriendly reusable bags that tourists throw in the trash in their hotel rooms and other places. All of those reusable bags will go to landfills."

The coalition also claims that compostable bags are not suitable for hot liquids and may burn dashing diners.

"When President Obama visited San Francisco in February 2012, he purchased dim sum from the Great Eastern Chinese Restaurant. The dim sum was provided to him in cardboard or other containers. The containers are placed inside plastic bags, which he carried into a waiting limousine," the complaint states.

"... It is for the restaurant owner, not a government entity, to decide whether a plastic or paper bag is the safest for its food."

Defendants include the City and County of San Francisco, its Planning Department and Department of the Environment.

Save The Plastic Bag Coalition, formed in 2008, claims on its website that "the anti-plastic bag campaign is largely based on myths, misinformation, and exaggerations."

The coalition says in its 27-page complaint that it plans to sue Manhattan Beach, to challenge its restaurant bag ban.

It seeks an injunction suspending the ordinance and declaring it invalid.

The coalition is represented by Stephen Joseph.

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