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Plastic Bag Ban Battle Rises to State Level

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

A once-failed effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags across California has been recycled by a Bay Area assemblyman, though much of the East Bay has already eliminated plastic bags in grocery stores.

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

Levine resurrected 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."

Alameda County banned the use of plastic bans at the start of this year, joining San Francisco, San Mateo County, San Jose and 49 other California cities that already had bans in place.

Bag manufacturers, however, 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? How has your experience been with the local county-wide ban?

Salena February 08, 2013 at 06:44 AM
I'm not sure about waste gas but according to the Wall Street Journal 12 million barrels of oil are required to make a year's worth of plastic bags (100 million bags). I've been using cloth, "laminated" woven bags and mesh bags for produce. The cloth and mesh bags go in the wash, the laminated gets a go over with a clorox wipe. For wet garbage I use biodegradable bags, these all exist for dog poop. There should be a manufacturer for cat litter boxes.
Khandrola Dechen February 08, 2013 at 03:36 PM
I too use these bags for the litter waste. WE have one of those electric litter pans which reduces the litter footprint by dumping only the used portion. These bags are a perfect substitute for for the plastic trays, they sell for it, conserving THAT plastic from the garbage. We joke that we will have to get bags from the black market once our stash is gone...
Jeanne Evans February 09, 2013 at 02:45 AM
I find Alameda County's ordinance to be half-baked, as are most other ordinances. If we're really trying to quit the use of plastic bags, then ALL stores should comply. I work retail. We use plastic bags. We aren't subject to the ordinance, and neither are MOST other retail stores! I work at South Shore Center and see bags from Old Navy, Kohl's, B B &B, and yes even my store (Beverlys). The ONE place I WANT a plastic bag is the grocery store to prohibit leakage and contamination! If we REALLY want to save the planet, then the ordinance should cover ALL plastic. I always ask my customer if they'd like a bag. It's 50/50 on yes, and usually its a tiny bag, for one item, that has NO reuse purpose! My point is, we should be ALL IN on this. Save the planet as best we can!!
Lacking Alacrity April 08, 2013 at 01:47 AM
I would like to know where exactly the 10 cents per paper bag is going. Is it going to the retailer? Is it going somewhere else to be used for waste reduction, recycling programs, or something like that? If it just goes to the retailer then I am going to be really irritated. Businesses have built the cost of bags, whether they are paper or plastic, in to the cost of doing business. Are we seeing a reduction in our grocery bills to offset the fact that they don't have to provide bags for everything any more? I think not!
Chris J April 08, 2013 at 02:46 PM
My understanding is that the dime goes to the retailer and isn't collected like sales tax, etc. usually is. I am guessing is that the dime is the disincentive or, rather, incentive to remember to bring ones own bag. Other poster was correct that charging for bags only in food related businesses is the height of idiocy. I work in retail, we use plastic bags, so what's the point. It's a good start, the policy, but still too short.

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