Beginning in November, traditional plastic shopping bags and Styrofoam containers will be illegal in San Francisco and San Francisco County. Stores will be required to use bags made from compostable plastic, paper or canvas, and all food containers also must be biodegradable, compostable or recyclable. Portland, Ore.; Boston; Baltimore and other cities and counties are considering similar laws.

American City & County asked readers of its weekly e-mail newsletter if those laws are a good way to reduce litter and promote the use of recyclable material. Following are some of the responses:

“I absolutely agree with local governments outlawing plastic bags and non-renewable, non-biodegradable food containers. Grocers and restaurants [also] benefit from the use of these types of materials in cost savings. The burden, however, is put upon the government — not to mention the general population — to maintain and mitigate the pollution from such materials. Therefore, government entities are justified in regulating their use.”
Michael Snow, city clerk, Wheat Ridge, Colo.

“I applaud these cities for their bold moves. If we continue to lag behind in our efforts to increase recycling rates, this may be the only option. Another aspect of the non-biodegradable plastic bag is that they are polluting our roadsides. At least in Texas, this is the main type of litter you see on the roads.

I think that we have come to the point where such laws are becoming a necessity. The pace of expansion of recycling has slowed and we see almost a crisis in the lack of available new landfill sites. The logical answer is to require that more materials are actually recyclable or compostable. If you doubt this, just look at the roadsides after the grass has been mowed, and you will see the tons of litter that is composed mostly of plastic bags, bottles and Styrofoam cups.”
Patricia Lambert, environmental planner, North Central Texas Council, Arlington, Texas.

Editor's note: To subscribe to American City & County's weekly e-mail newsletter, “Local Government Update,” visit our Web site, and click on “Subscribe” under the “Newsletter” heading.