Wednesday, March 28, 2007

San Francisco with no more plastic bags?

A few days ago I posted on my blog an important petition to curb plastic bag overconsumption in San Francisco. Well, apparently it worked!

From the San Francisco Chronicle.

Supermarkets and chain pharmacies will have to use recyclable or compostable sacks
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Paper or plastic? Not anymore in San Francisco.

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 and has been drawing global scrutiny this week.

"I am astounded and surprised by the worldwide attention," Mirkarimi said. "Hopefully, other cities and other states will follow suit."

Fifty years ago, plastic bags -- starting first with the sandwich bag -- were seen in the United States as a more sanitary and environmentally friendly alternative to the deforesting paper bag. Now an estimated 180 million plastic bags are distributed to shoppers each year in San Francisco. Made of filmy plastic, they are hard to recycle and easily blow into trees and waterways, where they are blamed for killing marine life. They also occupy much-needed landfill space.

Two years ago, San Francisco officials considered imposing a 17-cent tax on petroleum-based plastic bags before reaching a deal with the California Grocers Association. The agreement called for large supermarkets to reduce by 10 million the number of bags given to shoppers in 2006. The grocers association said it cut back by 7.6 million, but city officials called that figure unreliable and unverifiable because of poor data supplied by markets.

The dispute led to a renewed interest in outlawing the standard plastic bag, which Mirkarimi said Tuesday was a "relic of the past." 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.

The grocers association has warned that the new law will lead to higher prices for San Francisco shoppers.
"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."

Power said most of the group's members operating in San Francisco are likely to switch to paper bags "simply because of the affordability and availability issues."
Mirkarimi's legislation is one in a string of environmentally sensitive measures -- such as outlawing Styrofoam food containers and encouraging clean-fuel construction vehicles at city job sites -- adopted by the city in recent months.

"It's really exciting," Jared Blumenfeld, director of the city's Department of the Environment, said after the vote on Tuesday. "We're thrilled. It's been a long time in the making."
Blumenfeld said it takes 430,000 gallons of oil to manufacture 100 million bags. Compostable bags can be recycled in the city's green garbage bins and will make it more convenient for residents to recycle food scraps, he said.

Recycling of paper bags also is far more active today than it was when the plastic bag was first introduced to U.S. consumers.
The lone dissenting voice in the board chamber on Tuesday was Supervisor Ed Jew, who noted that 95,000 small businesses in San Francisco will continue to use plastic bags. Jew, who in his third month in office has taken to critiquing his colleagues for being too quick to burden residents and businesses with new mandates, complained that Mirkarimi's legislation has taken too much of the board's time.
"We need to move on to address the larger issues in San Francisco," Jew said shortly before he voted against the ordinance.
Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, who introduced amendments this month that will subject pharmacy chains to the legislation, said many large businesses in San Francisco already participate in recycling programs.
"The target of this legislation is the bags themselves and improving the environment," she said.

Plastic bags by the numbers
180 million
Roughly the number of plastic shopping bags distributed in San Francisco each year.
2 to 3 cents
Amount each bag costs markets, compared with anywhere from 5 to 10 cents for a biodegradable bag.
4 trillion to 5 trillion
Number of nondegradable plastic bags used worldwide annually.
430,000 gallons
Amount of oil needed to produce 100 million nondegradable plastic bags.

Source: S.F. Department of the Environment; Worldwatch Institute

Monday, March 26, 2007


This is the number of people that had signed Al Gore's message to Congress demanding immediate action to solve the climate crisis.

Here the video highlights of the hearing.

You can also watch Al Gore's opening statement.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Email from Al Gore -- PLEASE ACT!

Al couldn't resist emailing me, after seeing the email from my wife. This is what he sent me... please make sure to send the card!


Dear Luca,
We are now within striking distance of collecting over 500,000 messages to deliver to Congress and have less than 48 hours to get it done in time for the hearings.
Ask any friend who wants to end the climate crisis to sign our message to Congress now by visiting:

When I emailed you last Friday, 294,374 people had signed our message to Congress demanding immediate action to solve the climate crisis. In that email, I asked you to help meet the goal of delivering 350,000 messages when I testify at Congressional hearings on Wednesday.

Your response was amazing. By Saturday morning - because of you - we exceeded our goal! In fact, as I write this email, our total has risen to 405,758. Thank you!

What that means is that we are now within striking distance of collecting over 500,000 messages - and have less than 48 hours to get it done in time for the Congressional hearings.

Now is the time to reach out to as many people as possible. Ask any friend who wants to end the climate crisis to sign our message to Congress now by visiting:

By the way, maybe this goes without saying, but please reach out to Republican and Independent, as well as Democratic friends. One of our goals must be to make this issue one that transcends partisanship. While many of the solutions to the climate crisis will be found within the political system, there should be bipartisan and transpartisan agreement on the basic nature of the crisis and the sense of urgency that is appropriate for us to solve it.

That point was brought home to me again last week when I visited London and met with the leaders of the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. In the UK, both major political parties are completely committed to taking real action to solve the climate crisis. They openly acknowledge this is an unprecedented moral issue and are competing vigorously to see who can propose the most creative and effective solutions to solve this crisis.

Here at home, our objective must be to create a similar sense of urgency in both political parties. That is why your activism leading up to these hearings is so important. We are so close to our new goal of 500,000 messages to Congress. You can help put us over the top.

So please reach out to everyone you know and ask them to sign our message to Congress today - or at least within the next 48 hours by visiting:

Thank you,

Al Gore

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Using frequent flyer miles to buy carbon offsets?

I had this idea. It might not be a new one. Wouldn't it be great if airline companies could offer you the possibility to buy carbon offsets with your frequent flyer miles?

I think it's important to encourage companies to become Carbon Neutral and to give their customers options to become carbon neutral themselves. Below a letter that I sent to United Airlines- feel free to use it as a template to send to other airlines, tour operators or companies, as appropriate.


To whom it may concern,

As a concerned frequent traveler, I wonder if United is doing anything to become Carbon Neutral - and to help travelers become Carbon Neutral as well.

One of the most important steps you can take is offer people who travel with United an option to "neutralize" the pollution they are incurring on.

I have just learned about a company called TerraPass (you buy "points" and your money funds renewable energy projects such as wind farms. These projects result in verified reductions in greenhouse gas pollution. And these reductions counterbalance your own emissions.)

Perhaps United can make it possible for travelers to purchase TerraPass with their miles?

I do not work or in any way represent TerraPass. I just feel that the world I have seen through traveling with your airline deserves our concern and action.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

xxx xxx

Email from my wife

I am posting an email I just got from my wife.


Dear Mr. Global Warming:

Read this:

If you really want to get serious about the planet, how about we go vegan??

This is a dare.



Friday, March 9, 2007

Important petition...on plastic bags, again

I have just read and signed the petition: "Help San Francisco Curb Plastic Bag Overconsumption"

Help support San Francisco’s efforts curb plastic bag overconsumption by signing this petition. It only takes about 30 seconds and will really help advance the cause. Please follow this link:

This plan calls for a use-based fee where the consumer is charged at the checkout for each plastic (and paper) shopping bag they take. Since the consumer is charged directly, the mindless, wasteful overconsumption we are all familiar with is quickly and effectively reduced. It's modeled after Ireland's successful PlasTax which has curbed plastic bag use in Ireland by 90%. Ireland's plan went smoothly, with people using reusable shopping bags and consuming one billion fewer plastic shopping bags per year.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

On plastic bags... again

Just read the following:

According to the EPA, Americans discarded more than 4.4 million tons of polyethylene bags in 2005, and only about 5 percent of those were recycled. Plastic bags waste resources, release toxins when burned, and contribute to global warming due to the energy required to make them. Bags littering the oceans also annually kill countless marine animals that mistake them for food.
This is madness! Simple action: let's eliminate the use of plastic bags and let's use only cloth bags instead.

For more info click here

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Paper or Plastic bags?

I know you think the right answer is paper, but it's not that easy, as explained in today's San Jose Mercury article. However, in my opinion these are some solutions:

  1. Ideal solution: buy reusable bags (even better if they are made of recycled materials), keep them in the trunk of your car, so you won't forget them. The fact you paid for them will motivate you to use them.
  2. If you must, take paper bags, but only if you use them several times and you put them into the paper recycle bin to dispose of them. Paper bags, even if biodegradable, often end up in landfills, where they do not break down.
  3. If you really forgot your reusable bags, and you don't recycle paper get plastic bags. But after you use them, don't throw them away. Bring them back to the supermarket where you got them so they can be recycled. If they don't offer a program like that, write a letter to complain.
Baby steps are the only thing that change the world.

Photo by antimonyazazello