Get Ready for San Francisco with the Sustainability Committee: Plastic bags and Containers

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the Sustainability Committee in the run-up to the 2014 Annual Meeting, describing sustainability issues and initiatives in the city of San Francisco.
Residents of Washington, DC, Boulder, Santa Fe, and a few other cities (including about 50 in the state of California) may be used to similar ordinances, but everyone else should be forewarned: when you make a purchase, the store can no longer provide a free bag to go along with it. For a 10 cent fee, you can purchase a ‘compliant’ bag to carry your goods in. Compliant bags are either:
* Compostable plastic bags labeled with a certification logo
* Paper bags labeled with 40% post-consumer recycled content
* Reusable checkout bags designed for at least 125 uses and washable
Why is this a good idea? Plastic bags clog sewers, pipes, and waterways. They mar the landscape. They photodegrade by breaking down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins, then contaminate soil and water. They are making a significant contribution to the plastic pollution of the oceans. Thousands of marine animals die each year from ingesting them. And, they are manufactured from petroleum, a resource that is both finite and dangerous to transport.
In addition, you will notice that your takeout food containers are a little different than what you may be used to. Containers are required to be compostable or recyclable. Styrofoam is a definite no-no. As the SF Environment (a city agency) site says: “Made from oil, polystyrene foam is non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and non-recyclable. Polystyrene foam food service ware ends up in landfills, waterways, or the ocean. It can break into pieces, which are often mistaken for food and ingested by marine animals, birds, and fish. Medical studies suggest that chemicals in polystyrene foam can cause cancer and leach into food or drinks.”
While we are there, you will still be able to purchase water in plastic bottles (although, please don’t; you can get it from the tap). But the city council has passed an ordinance prohibiting their sale in any public spaces that will go into full effect by 2018.
Laws like these can hopefully prevent what was witnessed by Jia-Sun Tsang, who works at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC: “On April 12, National Cherry Blossom Festival, thousands of tourists came through the Mall and left park workers 27 to 30 tons of trash to pick up.”
Many city councils are considering similar laws. Please contact your lawmakers and show your support. Refuse to patronize a restaurant (or staff cafeteria) that uses styrofoam. If you work at an institution, let the suppliers (or decision-makers) know that you prefer to chose products from vendors that use less packaging.
SF Environment: Plastic Bag Ordinance
Cities with Plastic Bag Bans
MSNBC: SF Bans Sale of Plastic Water Bottles
Examiner: SF Bans Sale of Plastic Water Bottles
SF Environment: Take-out Container Ordinance
Facts About the Plastic Bag Pandemic