San Francisco Bans Plastic Bags:
180 Million a Year

Back in the summer of 2005, I expressed my disappointment that San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi's proposal to levy a $.17 tax on plastic shopping bags didn't go very far, "Plastic Bag Tax: Good Enough for Dublin, Why Not San Francisco?"

A lot has happened to change the political environment in the past 21 months -- Hurricane Katrina, oil prices skyrocketing, ecosystems on the verge of collapse, and the awarding of an Oscar to a documentary about global warming.

Suddenly environmental issues have taken center stage and a plastic bag tax doesn't seem so radical. Yesterday, Mirkarimi and all those who supported his efforts to tax plastic bags were vindicated, and rewarded with an even better result.
The city's Board of Supervisors approved groundbreaking legislation Tuesday to outlaw plastic checkout bags at large supermarkets in about six months and large chain pharmacies in about a year.

The ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, is the first such law in any city in the United States.

Under the legislation, which passed 10-1 in the first of two votes, large markets and pharmacies will have the option of using compostable bags made of corn starch or bags made of recyclable paper. San Francisco will join a number of countries, such as Ireland, that already have outlawed plastic bags or have levied a tax on them. Final passage of the legislation is expected at the board's next scheduled meeting, and the mayor is expected to sign it.
Of course, the California Grocers Association isn't happy about it, behaving like most corporate entities, putting profits over people and the planet. (Funny, the CGA shows paper bags on its corporate website!)
"We're disappointed that the Board of Supervisors is going down this path," said Kristin Power, the association's vice president for government relations. "It will frustrate recycling efforts and will increase both consumer and retailer costs. There's also a real concern about the availability and quality of compostable bags."
How much will costs increase? For retailers, the difference is about 2 to 8 cents between plastic bags and biodegradable bags. This law will instantaneoulsy increase demand for compostable bags, which will in turn create business opportunies for those who can solve any issues of availability or quality.

The real savings is for the environment and the planet. The City of San Francisco uses about 180 million plastic bags a year, which require 774,000 gallons of oil to produce. How much does that oil cost? A lot more than most would imagine.

Getting 180 million plastic bags out of our ocean and landfills? Priceless.

Bottled Water or Tap Water?

Which is better, bottled water or tap water?

I know we have great tap water here in San Francisco, perhaps some of the best in the world, but it turns out that the water in Cleveland is good, too.
The ads for Fiji Water sold around the world proclaim that "The label says Fiji because it's not bottled in Cleveland."

The back of the bottle contains information about trade winds purifying island water -- water not affected by acid rain and other pollutants.

Cleveland Water Department officials said their test results showed Cleveland's treated drinking water is better quality than Fiji Water. They said Fiji Water had the highest levels of arsenic and other contaminants.

NewsChannel5 held a blind taste test.

The taste testers preferred Cleveland water.
I learned about the story this morning, listening to the authors of "Thirst: Fighting the Corporate Theft of Our Water" on KPFA's The Morning Show. "Thirst" was reviewed in Sunday's Chronicle.

Some San Francisco restaurants are switching to tap water because it's sustainable, local and good.
"Our whole goal of sustainability means using as little energy as we have to. Shipping bottles of water from Italy doesn't make sense," says Mike Kossa-Rienzi, general manager of Chez Panisse.

When it comes to water, Americans chose bottled stuff to the tune of 26 gallons per person last year, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation. That's $11 billion worth.

Restaurants are a small, but influential, part of that.

Their move away from bottled water reflects concerns not about the bottom line, but about the environmental costs of bottling and transporting water, the energy spent recycling the glass, and keeping plastic out of landfills.
I had a vague sense of the environmental costs, but was still surprised to learn that in just one year, we Americans consume plastic water bottles that require "47 million gallons of oil, enough to take 100,000 cars off the road and 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere."

As of today, I'm giving up bottled water, and will do my best to educate my friends and peers about the real costs of bottled water, as well as the advantages of tap water.

"The Year Without Toilet Paper"

A friend sent this link to a New York Times article, "The Year Without Toilet Paper", with the warning, "Your wife might end up killing me for sending you this article, but I thought you could use the inspiration."

My wife wouldn't kill me, because I would never go to these extremes. But this story is inspiring, nonetheless.
Mr. Beavan and Isabella have been hewing closely, most particularly in a dietary way, to a 19th-century life. Mr. Beavan has a single-edge razor he has learned to use (it was a gift from his father). He has also learned to cook quite tastily from a limited regional menu — right now that means lots of apples and root vegetables, stored in the unplugged freezer — hashing out compromises. Spices are out but salt is exempt, Mr. Beavan said, because homemade bread “is awful without salt; salt stops the yeast action.” Mr. Beavan is baking his own, with wheat grown locally and a sour dough “mother” fermenting stinkily in his cupboard. He is also finding good sources at the nearby Union Square Greenmarket (like Ronnybrook Farm Dairy, which sells milk in reusable glass bottles). The 250-mile rule, by the way, reflects the longest distance a farmer can drive in and out of the city in one day, Mr. Beavan said.
This reminds me of other experiments I've read about: a woman in Arkansas who was able to reduce the trash for one whole year to an amount that didn't even fill a single garbage bag; the man who cataloged and weighed his family's waste for a year, and was shocked to fully grasp the extent of their, um, wastefulness.

I've been thinking for a long time now about what I can do to consume less and lighten my footprint. This site will serve as a diary for my personal journey, which begins today.
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