A woman loading groceries in San Francisco.
A woman loading groceries in San Francisco. - 
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Doug Krizner: Paper or plastic? Well, you won't hear that question in San Francisco anymore. Starting today, the city becomes the first in the nation to ban traditional plastic bags at big grocery stores. As Sarah Gardner reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, grocers are left with few alternatives.

Sarah Gardner: Under this new ordinance, the grocery chains in San Francisco now have a choice: They can hand the customer a paper bag made with at least 40 percent recycled content, or they can use a special compostable plastic bag.

But Dave Heylin at the California Grocers Association says the switch may not be entirely eco-friendly:

Dave Heylin: There is some concern. Are we really reducing the number of bags in the waste stream?

But San Francisco's environmental chief, Jared Blumenfeld, says he'll push stores to use 100 percent recycled paper bags. And if they can train San Franciscans to bring reusable canvas bags to the market, that'll be even better.

Jared Blumenfeld: This really isn't rocket science. If we can't outlaw plastic bags, we're never gonna be able to deal with the much more complicated issues revolving around our reduction of greenhouse gases.

The plastic ban goes into effect today, but San Francisco officials won't enforce it until December 1 -- after the Thanksgiving rush.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner