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News Release: 2012-09-12

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Judge upholds S.F.'s plastic bag law, clears way for ban, 10-cent charge starting Oct. 1

Court rejects arguments by plastic bag manufacturers, distributors about inadequate environmental review, state pre-emption

SAN FRANCISCO (Sept. 12, 2012) -- A San Francisco Superior Court judge this afternoon 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 L. Jackson, which she delivered verbally from the bench this afternoon pending a forthcoming written decision, clears the way for San Francisco to begin enforcing the ordinance, as planned, beginning Oct. 1, 2012.

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. The new law will apply to all retailers beginning next month, with retail food establishments, like take-out restaurants, subject to the ban beginning July 1, 2013. All establishments subject to the provisions will also be required to charge customers 10 cents for each single-use paper or compostable plastic bag.

An association of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors identifying itself as "Save the Plastic Bag Coalition" sued San Francisco on Feb. 29, both 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 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." The judge rejected those arguments in upholding the law today, but agreed to entertain a motion by the plaintiffs to stay the ruling pending appeal.

"I applaud Judge Jackson for her careful consideration of the issues, and for rejecting arguments by plastic bag manufacturers that clearly misapplied state law," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. "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. This is good policy, on sound legal footing, and it help move San Francisco toward its ambitious 'zero waste' goals."

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

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Last updated: 9/12/2012 3:46:59 PM