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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 much of the Peninsula 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 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."

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.

  • Mountain View and Cupertino are the latest Santa Clara County municipalities to ban plastic bags. Mountain View's prohibition, approved in December, goes into effect on April 22, Earth Day. Cupertino's ban was OK'd earlier this month and will take effect in October.
  • Palo Alto has one of the oldest plastic bag bans on the books in California. It was approved in 2009. Santa Clara County banned plastic bags in 2012.
  • San Jose and Sunnyvale also have bans.

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?


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sister madly January 31, 2013 at 04:58 AM
this bag ban is in a word: stupid. 10cents a bag in some cities should just be considered the cost of doing business. for people who don't know...plastic bags were introduced in the 1970s - 1980s as an environmental IMPROVEMENT: 1. no trees are cut down to make them 2. less energy is used to make them 3. less water is used to make them 4. they are reusable and recyclable. and guess what...every single one of those reasons is still valid. the problem isn't single use plastic bags, it's LITTERING. most reusable bags are little more than beefed up plastic ones...and aren't recyclable, cloth ones take laundering to keep them clean - which uses water and energy. all can can harbor nasty bacteria and viruses...and guess what will eventually end up in land fill... plastic bag bans are just a feel good measure that really doesn't do much in terms of limiting pollution and littering, or in terms of energy and resource conservation. education, education, education is the answer...like plastic water bottles we must treat recyclables as raw materials for other uses...i have a very nice purse made form 18 "rehabilitated" soda bottles. (http://www.zappos.com/mosey-womens-bags~1)

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