State-Wide Plastic Bag Ban Revived

plastic-bag-putahby Michelle Millet

After three unsuccessful attempts to regulate single-use carry-out grocery bags,  a deal appears to have been reached in the California legislature on a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, liquor stores and pharmacies  state-wide by 2016.

The most recent failure of such a bill occurred on May 30, 2013 when Senate Alex Padilla’s Senate Bill 405 – which restricted the distribution of bags considered “single-use”  and required stores to charge a fee for paper or other usable bags – failed a Senate Floor vote 18-17 with 4 senators, including Lois Wolk, abstaining. Three more votes were needed for the bill to pass.

New  legislation, announced at a press conference on Friday gives new hope to those in support of plastic bag regulations.

SB 270 is a joint effort by Sen. Alex Padilla and two of his colleagues,  Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Ricardo Lara, (D-Bell Gardens).

De León and Lara not only voted against Padilla’s previous bill, they led the opposition of its passage,  stating concerns over the the negative impact it could have on the estimated 2,000 statewide workers employed by the plastic bag manufacturing industry in California.

“The issue matters to the thousands of Californians and their families who rely on the plastic bag industry for their livelihoods. Before we proceed with banning an entire industry, we should understand the full impact and cost of our actions on our local economy and the hardworking people and families that will be displaced. This facility and these workers need to have a voice in a debate that has essentially ignored them.” stated Senator Lara in an opinion piece written in May of 2013

This new legislation, co-authored by the three, helps address these concerns by earmarking $ 2 million from the state recycling funds for use by plastic bag manufacturers.  Plastic bag makers would be apply for loans and grants that would help them retrain workers and  re-engineer their operations to make plastic bags that meet state’s criteria for multiple use.

The new bill also stipulates that reusable bags most contain at least 40% recycled material by 2020 and it would establish a third-party certification of reusable plastic bags to ensure they meet California standards.

In attendance at Friday’s press conference, in support of this new legislation, was the United Food and Commercial Workers, the California Grocers Association, Environment California, Friends of the L.A. River, Mujeres de La Tierra, Californians Against Waste, and Heal the Bay as well as Senator’s de León and Lara.

At the press conference Sen. Padilla stated, “SB 270 reflects the hard work and commitment of a broad coalition of business, labor and environmental groups to do the right thing for our economy and environment.”

Padilla continued, “Working with both Senator De León and Senator Lara was key to moving this new bill forward. I took their concerns seriously and I believe the language in the bill is responsive to their concerns.”

Senator de León stated, “We need to balance the health of the planet with the preservation of people’s livelihoods and recognize the economic conditions faced by businesses in California. This compromise will bridge the gap and help move the economy forward into a green future.”

“Through this proposal we’ve proven that sound environmental policy does not have to come at the expense of good manufacturing jobs – we can have both. I am proud to join my colleagues in supporting this bill because it protects our environment by phasing out plastic bags while also protecting workers in my district and throughout California,” said Senator Ricardo Lara at the press conference.

“It is a monumental day for California. Three great leaders have come together to support a measure to foster innovation, safeguard businesses and protect California’s treasured natural resources. We are grateful to Sens. Padilla, de León and Lara for listening to the concerns of Californians and for bravely standing up for California. They have crafted a measure that will foster a market for innovation and enact consistent rules to protect cities, counties and businesses from the existing patchwork of compliance standards. This measure has the support of labor, business and the environmental community. California’s grocers stand ready to do our part to make California a global leader in the shift away from single-use plastic grocery bags. There is no reason whatsoever now that California cannot finally make this measure a reality,” said Ronald Fong, President & CEO, California Grocers Association.

As a side note, in February of 2013 Senator Lois Wolk introduced Senate Bill-700 an alternative to the statewide plastic bag ban. The bill seeks to give consumers the choice of using their own bag at retails stores or paying a nickel-per-bag fee that would toward local environmental park and projects.

“This measure gives communities and consumers a choice. Local governments get to decide whether they want to participate in the program, and those that do participate will see the proceeds from bag sales go into environmental and parks projects in their community. The proposal would not only reduce wasteful bag use in California, buy generate an estimated $100-200 million in steady annual revenue that communities could use for new parks, litter removal or other environmental projects”,  stated Senator Lois Wolk.

SB 700 was approved by 6-2 vote in the Senate Natural Resources Commission and was approved 6-3 by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee in May of 2013. SB 700 is waiting to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In November of last year Davis City Council members voted to approve a single use bags ordinance that looks very similar to the one being proposed at the state level.

The city regulations state business shall not provide single-use carry-out bags to a customer at the point of sale.  Business can provide reusable bags for a minimum mandatory10 cent fee.

This ordinance will go into effect on July 1 of this year.

About The Author

Michelle Millet is a 25-year resident of Davis. She currently serves as the Chair of the Natural Resource Commission.

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30 Comments

  1. growth issue

    “Some reusable bags need to be used over 100 times before they’re better for the environment than single-use plastic bags. Polyethylene bags need to be used four times, a polypropylene bag must be used at least 11 times, and a cotton bag must be used at least 131 times, according to a study by the U.K. Environment Agency.”

    “A study commissioned by the United Kingdom Environment Agency in 2005 but never published found that the average cotton bag is used only 51 times before being thrown away.”

        1. David Greenwald

          It makes it more difficult to judge whether it’s right or wrong. A published study would be peer reviewed. That means it would have experts who evaluate the research prior to publication – and it can be a long and cumbersome process of revisions. The experts able to evaluate research methodology and also would be able to place it within the context of other published material.

          An unpublished study has none of these checks and balances. So we have no way to evaluate its validity to determine whether there are research flaws and to fit it within the general context of existing literature. The fact that it’s nine years old is also problematic because there could be additional research that has happened since that we just can’t evaluate.

          Also we don’t know why it was never published. Since wikipedia is written by its readers, we have no way of knowing if this is a meaningful study.

        2. Michelle Millet

          I could conduct a study on how many people saw Santa Clause this year and publish it on Wiki….Does that mean Santa Claus exists, because I wrote a paper claiming people saw him?

          1. B. Nice

            What if it was published by the North Artic Sinterklaas Agency. Would it be more believable then?

  2. 2cowherd

    My sense is thicker plastic bags designed to be reused ARE NOT BEING REUSED. They are being thrown away just as the thin plastic bags are . I don’t think this bill solves the problem of a world littered with plastic.

    1. Michelle Millet

      I share your concern, and want to do more research on these “reusable” plastic bags. If they end up just being thicker versions of the kind currently available then I don’t see a switch to them having much of an environmental impact.

      Charging a fee for them might help reduce the number being distributed though. (Instead of paying 10 cents to put a milk jug in a bag a consumer may opt to just carry the jug by it’s handle).

      1. David Greenwald

        In San Luis Obispo they charge 10 cents for paper bags and the clerk told me that people would rather carry all of their groceries to the car, than pay that money. He found it amusing, after all we’re talking 10 cents, maybe times four on a bill that’s $50 to $100.

        1. growth issue

          When I’m in the check out lines in Davis and the clerk asks paper or plastic I always say give me the plastic as I might as well get it before it’s banned. You’d be surprised how many times the clerk says things like “Yeah, can you believe that schit” or people in line will say “you’re kidding, plastic bags are getting banned, who’s responsible for that?”

          1. growth issue

            David felt compelled to share his San Luis Obispo plastic bag experience so I thought my local experiences might be of some interest.

  3. Michelle Millet

    For the record, Senate Bill 405 defined reusable as: (this applies to paper and plastic bags);

    (1) Be designed and manufactured to withstand, at a minimum, 125 uses. (uses means the capacity of carrying a minimum of 22 pounds 125 times over a distance of at least 175 feet)

    (2) Is machine washable or made from a material that can be cleaned and disinfected

    (3) Have printed on the bag, or on a tag attached to the bag, (a) the name of the manufacturer (b) the county where the bag was made (c) a recycling symbol or end-of-life management instructions (d) the percentage of post consumer recycled material

    (4) Does not contain lead, cadmium, of any other heavy metal in toxic amounts.

    In addition a reusable grocery bag made from plastic shall meet all of the following requirements:

    (1) by July 1, be made from a minimum of 20% post consumer recycled material

    (2) In addition to the information required to be printed on the bag or on a tag all the following information shall be printed: (a) a statement that the bag is usable and designed for 125 uses. (b) Instructions to return the bag to the store for recycling or to another appropriate recycling location

  4. Pingback: State-Wide Plastic Bag Ban Revived | Striving for Zero Waste

  5. Michelle Millet

    All zealotry and Santa sightings aside. The “greenest” solution is to reuse bags (what ever they are made of) as many times as possible reducing the need to make new bag out of anything.

    1. mcd

      Greenest solution is ask yourself do you really need what you’re buying. Often you don’t need it, but you lie to yourself and buy it anyway, or maybe you do need it, in which case just carry the item/s in your hands, half the time it is bagged or packaged already. If you have a bunch of stuff, place it in a shopping cart and take it to your car/bike/llama. I believe Costco manages to stay in business without handing out plastic bags right and left.

          1. Davis Progressive

            there’s nothing to preclude people from boxing their groceries. when i got to costco, i rarely use boxes however.

    1. growth issue

      Maybe the NRC can get some of those bag police badges ordered like in the video and distribute them to all the do-gooder plastic bag banning zealots in town?

      1. Realist

        GI – I enjoyed the bag police spoof video. That led me to this video pointing out some consequences of plastic bag bans. I admit it is self-serving to the one-use plastic bag industry but it did bring up one point I am interested in. One-use bags are produced in the USA but reusable bags are almost all made in China. I wonder where the reusable bags sold at our local grocery stores are made?

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1ZlP83D3v4

        1. growth issue

          Thanks Realist. I always reused my plastic bags to line my household trash cans. Now I’m going to have to buy the bigger, thicker trash can liners like they sell at Costco. I wounder how much longer they take degrade than the thinner grocery store ones?

          1. Michelle Millet

            Degradation rate isn’t an issue for bags that are getting buried in the landfill, so thickness is irrelevant in this situation.

            It is an issue in that more resources are used in making thicker bags.

            I am concerned that these “usable” plastic bags they are starting to manufacture and can be distributed at grocery stores will just result in thicker bags flying around where they aren’t supposed to be, resulting in more plastic pollution.

            Sounds like you share my concern.

            I’ll check into to them and let you know what I find out.

  6. Michelle Millet

    These are made in China, but the company does have pretty cool bag recycling program:

    http://www.chicobag.com/partnerships

    “Send us all of your tired masses of reusable bags, functional or not. We will distribute them to fixed and low income families ready to start a reusable bag habit or recycle them into new useful products through partnerships with artists, crafters and non-profit organizations. It’s simple, put your old reusable bag in a package and mail it to: ChicoBag Company c/o Zero Waste Program 13434 Browns Valley Drive Chico, CA 95973 We are always looking for partners. Please let us know who you think would benefit from our repurposing program at takeaction@chicobag.com

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