Gray Panthers of San Francisco
April 2007 Newsletter

Bio-degradables: Not in the Bag Yet


Supervisor Ross Mirkirimi has authored legislation to require bio-degradable plastic bags as a substitute to polyethylene produced bags. Petroleum-based bags are a danger to the environment. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the 30 billion plastic bags consumed annually in the U.S. The production of this product puts 9.2 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Additionally, the bags foul the recycling stream, litter and cause millions of deaths of aquatic life.

These biodegradable bags are made either from corn, potato, or wheat starch. One criticism is that in order to make these bags there is a possibility of an increase in price for these food products. Already in Mexico the use of corn shipped to the US market for bio-fuels for cars is causing a 400 percent increase in the price of tortillas. This has angered Mexicans who rely on corn for their food.

Instead of banning all plastic bags no matter their content, San Francisco proposes substitutes that obviate the need to make any lifestyle changes. Bio-degradable bags will not necessarily prevent the fouling of the environment by those who don’t place these bags into compost bins. The litter will continue and the ingesting of these bags by wild life will not necessarily diminish. Bags not put in compost bins will not degrade at the rate necessary to prevent harm to the environment. However, at this point, it is the best legislation we can get.

The legislation is still in committee and is being studied to include more than the 54 large grocery stores envisioned to implement this legislation. Supervisor Alioto-Pier has asked that the legislation include Walgreens and Rite Aid. The grocery store lobby is totally opposed to this legislation.

(back to April 2007 Newsletter front page)