Bag Ban Battle Rises to State Level

A Bay Area Assemblyman wants to prohibit single-use plastic bags throughout California in 2015.


A once-failed effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags across California has been recycled by a Marin County Assemblyman, though Santa Cruz County has already eliminated plastic bags in grocery stores, and the city of Santa Cruz will have a similar ban in April.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced the legislation earlier this month that would prohibit single-use plastic bags beginning in 2015.

Levine resurected a failed 2011-12 proposal by termed-out Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, Assembly Bill 298. That legislation cleared the Assembly floor in 2011 but faced opposition from plastic bag manufacturers and grocers and was never heard by the Senate, according to the Sacramento Bee.

"To continue the use of these bags would ignore the convincing body of global evidence proving that these bags are having a drastic effect on marine ecocultures," Levine said in a press release. "Additionally, there are several easily available and affordable alternatives to plastic bags. We need to ban these bags once and for all."

The success of his proposed law may hinge on the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition
efforts of a Tiburon man, who has challenged a Marin County ban. Several municipalities are still waiting for a resolution to his litigation before proceeding with their own prohibitions.

  • Capitola is the latest Santa Cruz County municipality to ban plastic bags. In January, the city adopted a plastic bag ban with a 25 cent charge on paper bags in all retail stores. It goes into effect in April.
  • The city of Santa Cruz approved a ban on plastic bags last summer. The prohibition goes into effect in April as well. The city has voted to raise the cost of paper bags in stores to 25 cents starting in April.
  • Watsonville and Santa Cruz County also have bans on plastic bags.

Bag manufacturers remain staunchly opposed to eliminating plastic bags from grocery store checkout stands. Bag the Ban, a project of recycled content high density polyethylene bag manufacturer Hilex Poly, call the bans "trendy" and legislation that “feels good to pass."

"Legislators should instead be spending time and money on legislation that has a positive impact for families and the economy," a Bag the Ban spokeswoman said.

Here are the fundamentals of Levine's proposal:

  1. Beginning on January 1, 2015, full-line grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales or retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of floor space would be prohibited from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.
  2. From January 1, 2015 to July 30, 2016, stores above could provide recycled paper bags to customers.
  3. Stores subject to this bill would be required to make reusable grocery bags available for sale.

He says it will help reduce litter and protect marine wildlife. Plastic bags account for about 10 percent of trash that washes up on beaches, according to Levine. Worldwide, it's believed people use about 500 billion plastic bags annually.

Opponents say that means the problem is litter, not plastic bags, according to CalWatchdog, a journalism venture covering the state capitol.

There also has been criticism how dirty reusable bags get.

"And unfortunately, most shoppers are completely unaware that, without proper cleaning, reusable shopping bags can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food-borne illness," according to Bag the Ban.

The cost of reusable bags has come under fire as well. Although it seems every store, community group and company gives out free reusable bags, many customers purchase them when they checkout. Under Levine's bill, grocery stores will have to provide paper or reusable bags to low-income customers.

"Levine’s bill will impose another unnecessary tax on the consumer and once again penalize private industry," CalWatchdog opined.

Dozens of communities around the country have banned single-use plastic bags in recent years, Plastics News reported. In California, about 16 percent of the state's population is covered by a single-use plastic bag prohibition, according to Californians Against Waste.

It hasn't been perfect, though. Complaints from consumers range from trouble remembering their reusable bags to no longer having plastic bags to clean up their dog's poop. About 90 percent of Americans reuse their plastic bags at least once, for everything from storage to waste disposal to packing material, according data from Bag the Ban.

Do you support a statewide ban on plastic bags at grocery stores?

Matthew Spiegl February 06, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Assemblymember Levine's bill (AB 158), is a weak compromise approach at best, and undermines the work done by local communities which have already enacted all-encompassing and meaningful single-use plastic bag bans. Local bag bans are gaining momentum because Sacramento still doesn't get it. Limiting the ban to apply only to full-line grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales or retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of floor space excludes far too many retail sources of this nuisance litter. Once it is out the door and into the environment, it doesn't matter where the plastic bag came from; whether the source be a large retailer or small mom and pop store, any plastic bag blowing in the wind, littering our streets and parks and beaches or clogging our storm drains and polluting our creeks and rivers and the ocean, will remain an environmental problem. And make no mistake about it, you and me - as taxpayers - are paying the cost to clean it up every day. To be effective, truly effective, a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags must be applied across the board to all retailers regardless of their type and size and this includes applying plastic bag bans to restaurants as well. If you agree, let Assemblymember Levine know that AB 158 needs to be amended to cover ALL single-use plastic bags - http://www.asmdc.org/members/a10/news-room/press-releases/levine-proposes-ban-on-plastic-grocery-bags


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