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:
- 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.
- From January 1, 2015 to July 30, 2016, stores above could provide recycled paper bags to customers.
- 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?