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City of San Francisco Wins Legal Battle over Plastics Industry

City of San Francisco won an important case in Superior Court on September 12th when Judge Teri L. Jackson upheld passage of a local ordinance extending San Francisco's ban on plastic checkout bags to all retail stores and restaurants, and imposing a 10-cent charge on other bags provided to consumers.  The “Save the Plastic Bag Coalition”, an association of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors brought suit to invalidate the law, arguing that the City had not properly complied with provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act and that the California Retail Food Code preempts the law because prohibitions on plastic bags for retail food facilities amount to a “health and sanitation standard.”  The court disagreed.

The new “bigger, better”  San Francisco ordinance applies to all stores and restaurants instead of just supermarkets and large pharmacies.  It also adds a fee on paper bags which was not implemented in the first San Francisco bag ordinance.  The new ordiance does still allow compostable bags to be offered at check out since there is a well-established composting system within the City of San Francisco.  

This Superior Court ruling would clear the way for San Francisco to begin enforcing the ordinance, as planned, beginning Oct. 1, 2012.  However, the plastics industry has vowed to appeal the case and has requested a delay on the implementation of the ordinance until after the appeal.  The hearing on the requested stay will take place on September 18, 2012.

“This is the most comprehensive single-use bag law in the country and we took tremendous care to make sure that the ordinance adequately addresses all environmental concerns and complies with all applicable laws,” said Jennie Romer, Esq., founder of  “I’m very happy to hear that the court agrees.”

There is also positive momentum across the state in defending bag ban ordinances in court.  The County of Los Angeles was successful in their defense of the county-wide ordinance banning single-use plastic bags and putting a fee on paper in March of this year.  However, the Petitioner Hilex Poly Co., a plastic bag manufacturer, has filed an appeal of that case which will be fully briefed next month.  Environmental groups are rallying to the aid of the County and likely to submit an amicus brief in support of the County of Los Angeles.

The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition is also currently in litigation against San Luis Obispo Integrated Waste Management Authority for their single-use bag ordinance.  At the August 30th hearing, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall expressed that SPBC's arguments were founded on circular reasoning and lacked foundation in the law.  He requested a letter from the Plaintiffs of up to three pages to explain why they challenged the City's promulgation of the bag ban ordinance.

The win in San Francisco and the positive momentum on court-approved local bans across the state will likely encourage other cities to stand up to industry litigation scare tactics and enact broad local ordinances.

9/21/12 Update: The SPBC's request for a stay on the implementation of the ordinance was denied on September 18th.  The City is set to implement the bigger, better ban on October 1, 2012.


Image Credit: NOAA Marine Debris Program