UPDATED STORY: The Assembly passed the statewide ban on single use plastic bags with 44 votes this morning, after reaching an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers. The legislation had previously passed the Senate and will head for a Governor’s signature.
A bill that would have banned plastic bags statewide died in the Assembly. failing to overcome a coalition of opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats – after the plastic and paper bag manufacturers mounted a vigorous late campaign to overcome strong support from environmentalists and grocers who supported the proposal.
The proposal ended up getting the support of 38 Democrats, only three short of a majority needed for passage. 33 votes in opposition came from Republicans and some moderate Democrats.
The bill was similar but more narrow to a local ordinance that is in effect in Davis that prohibits single-use carryout plastic bags from being dispensed by a range of merchants in the city of Davis and charges $.10 for a paper bag.
Statewide, the bill would, beginning on July 1, 2015, prohibit stores that have a specified amount of sales in dollars or retail floor space from providing a single-use carryout bag to a customer, with specified exceptions. The bill would also prohibit those stores from selling or distributing a recycled paper bag at the point of sale unless the store makes that bag available for purchase for not less than $0.10.
The bill, on and after July 1, 2016, would additionally impose these prohibitions and requirements on convenience food stores, foodmarts, and entities engaged in the sale of a limited line of goods, or goods intended to be consumed off premises, and that hold a specified license with regard to alcoholic beverages.
100 local governments across the state—including all of Los Angeles County—already have an outright ban on single-use plastic bags.
A coalition of environmental, labor, business groups and local governments are supporting SB 270, including Californians Against Waste, Environment California, Heal the Bay, Clean Seas Coalition, California League of Conservation Voters, Coastkeepers, Surfrider, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council, California Grocers Association, and the California Retailers Association.
“SB 270 strikes the right balance. It will protect the environment and it will protect California jobs as the state transitions to re-usable bags,” said the author of the bill Senator Alex Padilla.
“Single-use plastic bags are not just a coastal issue. They are found in our mountains, our deserts, our rivers, streams and lakes. They are also in our parks and neighborhoods. It is a statewide problem that deserves a statewide solution,” added Senator Padilla.
Supporters point to what they claim are the facts that each year more than 14 billion single-use plastic bags are handed out by retailers. According to the US EPA, 88% of plastic bags and sacks are not recycled.
In California, only 3% are recycled, according to CalRecycle, supporters claimed. Single-use plastic bags increase costs to local governments for clean-up because so few of the bags are recycled. There is also a very real environmental cost to marine life, birds and other wildlife.
Based on the experience of local jurisdictions that have enacted ordinances, a statewide policy would save local governments millions of dollars annually. The combined cost of single-use plastic bags to California consumers and state and local government for use, clean-up and disposal is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars annually.
Eighty-six local governments throughout the state have adopted plastic bag ban ordinances covering more than 115 cities and counties combined. In doing so, many of these communities have eliminated the significant costs associated with plastic bags, as well as substantially reduced the volume of bags entering their landfills.
“California is known throughout the world for its policies to protect the environment. Many of our cities and counties have enacted local ordinances banning single-use bags. It is time for a statewide policy,” said Senator Padilla.
However, the bill suffered a critical blow when the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on Monday withdrew its support for the ban.
According to a release, “The withdrawal of support comes after the bill’s final language failed to include a consumer fee of 10-cents per paper bag that had been proposed to go toward possible worker training programs, public safety initiatives or the retooling of machines in factories that currently make single-ply plastic bags. “
“Because of having serious concerns about the final language of SB 270, we are pulling support for the bill,” said Jim Araby, Executive Director of UFCW Western States Council. “There is currently no enforcement mechanism to ensure that the 10-cent fee stays at the local store and helps the local community. Large non-union grocery stores have a history of non-compliance and have been fined by both state and federal regulatory agencies, and we foresee serious problems if the 10-cent fee is not enforced.”
Mr. Araby added that the UFCW would consider supporting SB 270 again if the 10-cent consumer charge for paper bags were to be reinstated.
There is speculation that SB 270 could reemerge before the legislative break at the end of the year.
In the meantime, more local communities like Davis have jumped on board with local ordinances.
Update: The bill will come up for reconsideration today or tomorrow – the UFCW is now back in support of it. It is expected to get at least 41 votes for passage, but that could be as high as 43 to 45 votes.
—David M. Greenwald reporting