So how has everybody been faring in this first fortnight of the 10-cents-a-bag new order? (I just love the word fortnight!)
For those of you who don’t live in San Francisco and haven’t read about this – as of October 1, all merchants large and small in the city must charge customers 10 cents per shopping bag.
I am not opposed to this at all. There is something about the 10-cent levy that makes me go the distance – that distance halfway across the grocery store parking lot back to my car to get the reusable bags out of the trunk when I’ve forgotten them. Before October 1, half the time this happened I would proceed into the store thinking, oh well, I need the paper bags for composting anyway. Now I am more on task, remembering to shuffle the reusable bags back out to the car more often. For me, having to pay the 10 cents is working as a potent reminder, like someone in your imaginary TV family instituting a punitive jar to drop dimes into every time you say a swear word or uttering now-irritating phrases like ‘thinking outside the box’ or ’24/7.’ (Using ‘impact’ as an active verb or, worse, uttering the word ‘impactful’ will cost you two bits.)
Apparently, I am not alone in this. I found a great article on the National Geographic Website, “While Energy Policy Falters, Plastic Bag Bans Multiply” by Andrew Curry dated May 3, 2011. When a 5-cent charge on plastic and paper bags went into effect in 2010 in Washington D.C., it was estimated that bag usage by the city’s 600,000 residents dropped from 22.5 million bags per month, pre-tax, to 4.6 million per month – an 80% drop. He also goes on to say that in Ireland, where authorities started charging .15 euro or 20 cents per bag in 2002.
The impact was remarkable—and immediate. Within a few months, Irish shoppers went from using plastic bags at a rate of 328 per person per year to just 21. “It was a very dramatic fall-off,” says William Culbert, an official at Ireland’s Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. “Before the levy was introduced, some supermarkets recycled on a voluntary basis, and it wasn’t very successful. What made the difference was the levy.”
I have unknown quantities of wadded up plastic bags tucked away in multiple locations at home. I don’t think I am alone in this either. I probably have enough paper grocery bags stored up also to take care of my next two dozen compost runs. It’ll do us good in our household to spend down this bag surplus while improving shopping habits and reducing waste. Let’s hope that this measure does have similar results in SF as it has in other metropolitan areas, a positive impact on the environment and nudging more people in the eventual direction of zero waste.