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Following Capitola's Footsteps, 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 Marin County Assemblyman, though almost all of Santa Cruz County, including Capitola most recently, has already eliminated plastic bags in grocery stores.

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.
  • 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," Bag the Ban spokeswoman Raquel Bubar 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," Bubar said.

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?

Always Question January 31, 2013 at 03:04 PM
The idea looks good on paper, and sounds good when spoken by activists, but think about it: why ban grocery bags ONLY? If one is to ban plastic bags, then carry it all the way. Plastic bags to use for fresh (or already bagged) vegetables is still allowed, as are the plastic bags in which to put fresh meat products. How about plastic bags over cleaning? Then there are those plastic trash bags that we are encouraged to use. Those are just a few uses for plastic bags other than groceries. If banning plastic bags will help the environment (and I do not dispute that), then it needs to be expanded. Otherwise, it is just a showcase for activists.
Frank Geefay January 31, 2013 at 08:14 PM
The current statewide proposed ban on single use plastic bags is a compromise as are most things that are passed in the legislature. Banning all single use plastic bags will be more difficult to pass so a conditional ban is being proposed. The last proposal failed last year but now with the Democratic super-majority it has a better chance to pass this year. Making an absolute ban will not be acceptable to even all the Democrats making its passage problematic. This legislation does not prohibit extending the scope of the ban later on. This limited ban will make it easier for local governments to impose stricter bans of their own and force other local governments not supporting the ban to start a State mandated conditional ban. Eventually our dependency on single use plastic bags will change making the eventual total ban of single use plastic bags much easier for everyone to buy into.
Always Question February 04, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Yes, I do understand that the ban is a compromise. However, unlike cleaner wrap bags, bags for meat or vegetables, the grocery bags are NOT always single-use. They are used for storage, garbage, and for rebagging groceries. The other plastic bags I mentioned in my earlier comment are strictly one-use. If the point is to remove, or keep, plastic from the landfills and out of the environment, then it would make better sense to ban the other types of plastic use.
Frank Geefay February 05, 2013 at 02:11 AM
This is not about plastic bags in landfills but plastic bags scattered by the wind that clog up storm drains, and plays havoc in the environment. It is true that some of the bag are reused for other purposes but single use is the intent of their design and the label that they are given, thus they are designed not to be very strong and durable but thin and light weight. It is this design that makes them easily carried by the wind even when disposed in a land fill. When you shop you probably take home 5-8 bags. If you shop 4 times a week you take home 20-32 bags a week. That is just you. How many people shop per week in California?

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