The Board of Supervisors’ decision to extend a plastic bag ban to more stores and restaurants is good news for many business owners and employees. Some, however, believe it may hurt business.

“Sometimes [customers] ask to double bag and they don’t need it. I feel bad. Then I see them throw out the plastic bag on the street,” said Henry Vargas, an employee at Val 16 Market at 16th and Valencia streets.

Starting Oct. 1, there will be no more plastic bags in San Francisco stores. If customers want a bag, they’ll pay 10 cents for a paper or biodegradable bag. That’s what the Board of Supervisors voted for unanimously on Tuesday. The city first passed a ban on plastic bags in large grocery stores and chain pharmacies in 2007.

Vargas, who deals with approximately 500 customers a day and gives out hundreds of plastic bags, said he picks up many used bags outside the store on a daily basis.

“I don’t want to argue with the customer. If you say you need [a plastic bag], I give it to you,” Vargas said.

At the board meeting Tuesday afternoon, Supervisor Eric Mar said, “Plastic bags are not free,” referring to the damage plastic does to the environment.

At Hidden Paradise Café, co-owner Josh Lopez agreed. “I’d be happy if all plastic was gone. It takes years to break down. [By getting rid of it] you save the world a little bit,” he said.

“This will dramatically reduce the hundred of millions of bags used. It’s a costly nuisance in our waste processing system,” said proposition co-sponsor Supervisor Christina Olague.

A customer at Val 16 Market understood that banning plastic bags was a more environmentally friendly option. However, he doesn’t think he should be charged for a bag.

“I’m scared about global warming but we’re just getting charged left and right. I got a whole bag of plastic bags at home and I reuse them,” Ronald Harris said.

Fanny Alvarez, a nanny who was carrying bananas in a plastic bag on Mission Street, said she’s against paying, too, because many people simply can’t afford extras.

Sometimes you just need a plastic bag, she said.

“The other day [it was raining] when I got off the bus, I had a paper bag and it broke and my things fell everywhere,” Alvarez said.

Ricky Olmos, a resident of the Dark Rook on Mission Street, doesn’t mind having to pay.

“That’s fine with me,” he said. “There’s always going to be charges. At least with this, pieces of my money are going to something I know about, it’s more transparent.”

Stores will pocket the extra charge. Stores that don’t comply could be fined $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second and $500 each time after that. The Department of the Environment will enforce the law.

Customers “have to understand we’re not doing it on our own, we’re not trying to cheat them,” said Susan Malak, who has been running Golden Eagle Market on Valencia Street for 29 years.

Some business owners believe the new law will hurt business.

“They’re going to complain. You raise something by five or 10 cents, they complain,” said Ramiro Carrion at La Piñata Taqueria on Mission Street.

“If I ask them for 10 cents a bag, they won’t come in. We don’t even get a penny for a tip.”

For some, though, the ban won’t change anything. At Lucca Ravioli, owner Michael Feno has been giving out reusable bags to his customers for years.

“I started here in 1966 during the hippie years; all the recycling was going strong in the 1960s. It’s hard to believe that in the 2010s there’s been a lot of progress but in some ways we’re just getting back to these things.”

At Hidden Paradise Café, co-owner Lopez won’t be affected, either. He’s chosen to use biodegradable bags and containers at his newly reopened restaurant, and he charges customers for them.

For three biodegradable containers and a biodegradable plastic bag, he’ll charge approximately 60 cents. He says customers don’t seem to mind.

At the board meeting, Supervisor Carmen Chu told the audience, “We have a prevailing feeling that the city nickels and dimes every single thing, but the reason I have decided to support this is because I do believe that it will create a behavior change.”

Hélène Goupil

Hélène Goupil is a former editor at Mission Local who now works independently as a videographer and editor. She's the co-author of "San Francisco: The Unknown City" (Arsenal Pulp Press).

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4 Comments

  1. Carry your own bag if you can’t afford 10 cents. Why should you get a free bag if the store and the environment has to pay for it. Maybe if folks pay for the bag they won’t just use them carelessly and throw them out on the sidewalk.

    1. We already pay for the bag. The cost of the bags is already factored in to the price you pay for goods at the store. Now we are going to be paying twice for bags. It makes no sense that we are getting double-charged for a bag and the money just goes into the store owner’s pocket instead of a recycling or environmental program.

  2. Great Job SF. We all also need to be aware of garbage liners, more so because they are made of much heavier material than most other bags. They need to be eliminated as well and I think that The Maverick bagless trash can is a positive step in this direction. Lets keep up the fight to eliminate plastic bag pollution and keep our planet beautiful!!

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