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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.

In West Contra Costa, RecycleMore has released a draft environmental impact report (EIR) for a single use bag ordinance for a 45-day comment period ending on March 4, 2013. Copies of the draft EIR are available for review at the RecycleMore offices, the Contra Costa County Planning Department, and at the planning departments of the following cities: El Cerrito, Hercules, Pinole, Richmond, and San Pablo and RecycleMore's website: RecycleMore.com

The proposed ordinance would prohibit the free distribution of single-use carryout paper and plastic bags at the point of sale (i.e., check-out) for all retail establishments except restaurants and nonprofit charitable reuse organizations. The ordinance as proposed would apply to all other businesses that put purchases into single-use carryout bags, either paper or plastic, at the point of sale except at stores operated by nonprofit charitable reuse organizations.

An exception to the ban on single-use bags would be made for paper bags containing at least 40 percent recycled content, as long as the retail establishment charges at least five cents for each bag.

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?

Borris Batanov February 06, 2013 at 12:24 AM
Banning plastic bags is one thing, but charging 10 cents per paper bag, as is done in Albany and elsewhere, is profit taking by retailers. This is greed hypocritically masquerading as holier-than-thou environmentalism.
Evelyn Ruth Cecil Ortman February 06, 2013 at 06:41 PM
I reuse the plastic bags for garbage, I have garbage cans that are made specifically for this type of bag. Not sure how I feel about them going completely away. I have reusable bags and they do get very dirty and I have trouble remembering to bring them into the store from the car, gotta work on that!
Evelyn Ruth Cecil Ortman February 06, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Oh yeah, they are great for pooper scooping!
Susan February 06, 2013 at 08:26 PM
Evelyn, hopefully we can all use compostable plastic bags for our animals. I too share your feeling, I don't use plastic bags for much else than my pets!
Mark Kay February 06, 2013 at 08:37 PM
Plastic bags to me represent waste of resources. Target sells reusable bags for about a buck. A can of Lysol takes care of the germ problem. The quality of most of those throw away bags is so poor mine would usually get a hole in them before I got home. Using reusable bags means you care about the future inhabitants of this planet, including your grand children. Ever heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Plastic is harming our oceans. Also, I totally agree with Susan about compostable poop bags.
Kathy A. February 06, 2013 at 09:08 PM
I've been trying to use re-useable bags the last few years. I've got no problem with charging for plastic or paper if one is without a re-useable bag; just a little reminder to be prepared. We still use plastic for cat litter scooping, poop patrol on dog walks, wrapping shoes in the luggage, holding the dirty laundry on trips; but we don't need so very many of them. Re-useable bags are washable; just toss them in the laundry. (Everybody does laundry, right?) My favorites are rip-stop nylon, which are thin but strong; I can just wad them up and stick them in my purse or a pocket. Safeway used to sell THE BEST large black sturdy thin nylon bag; it is no longer available, but there are alternatives. The canvas-type bags are more of a pain, because they don't scrunch down to pocket size; but they are also sturdy, extras can all go in one of the bags, and they are handy for more than shopping.


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