Angry Davis residents can no longer threaten to drive to Woodland or Dixon to acquire plastic bags. A little over a month after it looked like a statewide ban had died in the Assembly, failing to overcome a coalition of opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats, and after the plastic and paper bag manufacturers mounted a vigorous late campaign to overcome strong support from environmentalists and grocers who supported the proposal, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 270 into law on Tuesday.
The Assembly ended up, on a reconsideration, passing the statewide ban on single use plastic bags with 44 votes, after reaching an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers.
The governor was widely expected this week to sign the law, as it would align state law with ordinances passed by a growing number of local governments in California to reduce plastic waste.
“This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” said Governor Brown. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”
The legislation, authored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), prohibits grocery stores and pharmacies from distributing single-use plastic bags after July 2015 and enacts the same ban for convenience stores and liquor stores the following year. It will also provide up to $2 million in competitive loans – administered by CalRecycle – to businesses transitioning to the manufacture of reusable bags.
Thus far, over 120 local governments in California have passed ordinances banning single-use bags in some fashion, with widespread support from community and environmental groups. SB 270 is supported by many of these same groups, along with local governments, businesses and labor organizations.
“I applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 270 into law. He continues to lead our state forward with a commitment to sustainability,” Senator Padilla said.
“A throw-away society is not sustainable. This new law will greatly reduce the flow of billions of single-use plastic bags that litter our communities and harm our environment each year. Moving from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags is common sense. Governor Brown’s signature reflects our commitment to protect the environment and reduce government costs,” Senator Padilla added.
Each year, more than 13 billion single-use plastic bags are handed out by retailers. According to CalRecycle, just 3% are actually recycled in California. Plastic bags cause litter, slow sorting and jam machinery at recycling centers. 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. SB 270 phases out single-use plastic bags in California grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores and pharmacies.
Ninety-eight local governments throughout the state have already adopted plastic bag ban ordinances covering more than 127 cities and counties. In doing so, many of these communities have eliminated the significant costs associated with plastic bags, and have substantially reduced the volume of bags entering landfills. The bill will save local governments millions of dollars annually.
Single-use plastic bags are also harmful to the environment, killing thousands of birds, turtles and other species. A study commissioned by the US Marine Debris Monitoring Program found that single-use plastic bags remain one of the top items found consistently during annual beach cleanups. Additionally, plastic items are estimated to compose 60-80% of all marine debris and 90% of all floating debris worldwide.
The new law will:
- Prohibit, beginning July 1, 2015, grocery stores and pharmacies from making available single-use plastic bags.
- Prohibit, beginning July 1, 2016, convenience stores and liquor stores from making available single-use plastic bags.
- Grandfather in existing local ordinances.
- Provide up to $2 million in competitive loans to businesses transitioning to the manufacture of reusable bags.
“Single-use plastic bags litter our beaches, our mountains, deserts, rivers, streams and lakes. SB 270 addresses this problem while striking the right balance. It protects the environment as well as California jobs as we transition to reusable bags and a greener economy,” said Senator Alex Padilla.
“The California coast is a national treasure and a calling card for the world, helping us attract visitors and business from around the globe. Removing the harmful blight of single-use plastic bags, especially along our coastline and waterways, helps ensure the kind of clean and healthy environment we need to have a stronger economy and a brighter future,” said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins.
“SB 270 is a win-win for the environment and for California workers. We are doing away with the scourge of single-use plastic bags and closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining – and growing – California jobs. As we further develop our green economy, SB 270 will be a model for balancing the health of the planet with the preservation of people’s livelihoods,” said Senate President Pro Tem-elect Kevin de Leόn, a joint author of the bill.
“This bill protects our environment by reducing plastic in our waste stream, and provides resources for California bag manufacturers to retrain their workers and re-engineer their operations to make plastic bags meet new, environmentally sound criteria. It’s a win for the environment, a win for manufacturers and a win for jobs,” said Senator Ricardo Lara.
“For nearly 10 million Californians, life without plastic grocery bags is already a reality. Bag bans reduce plastic pollution and waste, lower bag costs at grocery stores, and now we’re seeing job growth in California at facilities that produce better alternatives,” said Californians Against Waste executive director Mark Murray.
“California is the first state in the U.S. to ban the most ubiquitous consumer item on the planet, in an effort to drive consumers towards sustainable behavior change. Data from the over 127 local plastic bag bans has proven that bans are effective at reducing litter and changing consumer attitudes, and have refuted industry’s claims of apocalyptic impacts on jobs and poor communities. A state plastic bag ban saves taxpayers the huge amount of money spent on litter cleanup, and protects the environment,” said Clean Seas Coalition and Seventh Generation Advisors director Leslie Tamminen.
“SB 270 is a great victory for all of California. We’ve seen locally that plastic bag bans lead to cleaner water and healthier wildlife, keeping trash off our beaches and out of our creeks. The success of bag bans in our local communities has empowered state legislators to make the right decision for the health of California’s waterways. Governor Brown’s signature of this statewide bag ban is an important moment for our state, demonstrating that California is once again willing to take the lead on important environmental issues,” said Save the Bay executive director David Lewis.
As Davis’ ordinance is more stringent than the statewide ordinance, it will remain in effect. The Davis ordinance took place on July 1, in which local stores have been prohibited from distributing the single-use plastic bags and are required to charge at least 10 cents for a paper bag.
—David M. Greenwald reporting