Judge Upholds San Francisco’s Plastic Bag Law

Judge Upholds San Francisco’s Plastic Bag Law

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 16, 2012 (ENS) - A San Francisco Superior Court judge has upheld the validity of a local ordinance extending San Francisco's ban on non-compostable plastic checkout bags to all retail stores and food establishments, and imposing a 10-cent charge on other bags provided to consumers.

The ruling by Judge Teri Jackson, delivered verbally from the bench September 12 pending a forthcoming written decision, clears the way for San Francisco to begin enforcing the ordinance, as planned.

Beginning October 1, 2012 the new law will apply to all retailers. Beginning July 1, 2013, retail food establishments, such as take-out restaurants, will also be subject to the ban.

All establishments subject to the ordinance will be required to charge customers 10 cents for each single-use paper or compostable plastic bag they provide. Customers can, of course, bring their own reusable bags and use them without charge.

San Francisco's Checkout Bag Ordinance, approved by the Board of Supervisors and signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee in February, expands on San Francisco's first-in-the-nation prohibition on plastic checkout bags in large supermarkets and retail pharmacies that was first enacted in 2007.

An association of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors called Save the Plastic Bag Coalition sued the City of San Francisco on February 29 for two causes. The Coalition sought to halt enforcement and invalidate the law, arguing that the City had not properly complied with provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA,

And the the Coalition claimed that the California Retail Food Code preempts such local ordinances because prohibitions on plastic bags for retail food facilities amount to a "health and sanitation standard."

In upholding the law, Judge Jackson rejected those arguments but agreed to entertain a motion by the plaintiffs to stay the ruling pending appeal. Coalition attorney Stephen Joseph told "Plastics Today" his client is confident that the ruling will be overturned on appeal.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement, "I applaud Judge Jackson for her careful consideration of the issues, and for rejecting arguments by plastic bag manufacturers that clearly misapplied state law."

"San Franciscans deserve the same benefit other jurisdictions enjoy from an effective policy that has been shown to reduce the proliferation of single-use bags use by as much as 95 percent," said Herrera. "This is good policy, on sound legal footing, and it help move San Francisco toward its ambitious 'zero waste' goals."

Melanie Nutter, director of San Francisco Department of the Environment, said, "The continued use of plastic bags pollutes the environment and has been a hurdle for the City in reaching its goal of zero waste."

In March 2003, San Francisco Commission on the Environment adopted a date for achieving zero waste to landfill by 2020. The Commission directed the Department of the Environment to develop policies and programs to achieve zero waste, including increasing producer and consumer responsibility, in order that all discarded materials be diverted from landfill through recycling, composting or other means.

"Today," said Nutter, "we celebrate the court's decision supporting the City's approach to expand the checkout bag ordinance. This is a huge step forward toward reducing plastic bag use as well as all single use bags."

The Coalition has filed similar lawsuits against the cities of Santa Cruz, Long Beach, Palo Alto, Oakland and Manhattan Beach.

It had some success in the Manhattan Beach lawsuit in which the California Supreme Court ruled that plastic bag bans are not exempt from CEQA and that environmental impact reports "will be required" for cities and counties larger than Manhattan Beach or where there are cumulative impacts as a result of a series of bans.

The case is: Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. City and County of San Francisco et al., San Francisco Superior Court, Case Number CPF-12-511978.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

Cover photo: Cover photo: Shops along Fillmore Street, San Francisco, California. Author: Christopher Beland. Released into Public Domain.

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