Poll Finds Plastic Bag Ban Has Broad Support

At the end of September, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 270 into law, prohibiting grocery stores and pharmacies from distributing single-use plastic bags after July 2015, and thus aligning state law with ordinances passed by a growing number of local governments in California to reduce plastic waste.

The ink was not even dry on the signature when plastic and paper bag manufacturers, who mounted a vigorous late campaign to overcome strong support from environmentalists and grocers who supported the proposal, threatened to put the measure to a vote of the people.

“It’s yet another job-killing, big grocer cash grab masquerading as an environmental bill,” Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance said. The LA Times reported yesterday that “plastic-bag manufacturers (are) claiming that bans at the local and state level hurt the economy, kill jobs, tax the poor and don’t actually help the environment.”

The Times writes, “Listening to the plastic-bag industry oppose bans on their product is eerily similar to what carmakers said decades ago in opposition to seat belts and air bags.”

The industry is ready to throw its money in, hoping to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to overturn the law just passed by the legislature. It has until December 29 to collect over half a million signatures.

However, this is not going to be the slam dunk that some people thought. While the idea of plastic bag bans has been controversial, even in so-called progressive communities like Davis, a poll released last week by the LA Times shows that the ban has “road support among voters, presenting a challenge for industry groups that hope to overturn the law.”

Sixty percent of the voters who responded to the survey support the ban. More interesting is that the support is broader than current policies. 52 percent of respondents live in a community that has already banned disposable plastic bags while 60 percent support the ban, with just 35 percent in opposition.

The Times poll found that even 52 percent of the people who do not live under local restrictions support the ban.

“Even the people who haven’t been exposed to it don’t think it’s egregious,” said Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Inc.

A majority among all races and income levels would vote to uphold the ban.

But the industry is gearing up for a costly referendum. The Times reports that South Carolina’s Hilex Poly has already donated over half a million dollars to the effort.

The Times notes that Mr. Daniels is claiming, “We’re getting inundated with calls from Californians thanking us for doing this… It’s very encouraging for our industry.”

However, Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, which headed the statewide bag ban effort, told the Times that “he very much doubted that bag makers are being swamped with calls of support from state residents.”

The Times adds, “Murray said the industry’s claims of broad support mirror its insistence that plastic bags are environmentally safe. ‘They don’t have a real argument, so they’re using bogus arguments,’ he said.”

The LA Times talked to David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, which was the Republican half of the polling team, and he argued that ideological arguments were “unlikely to carry the day in a referendum battle.”

“If this becomes an ideological thing, that’s not enough to persuade voters in a Democratic-leaning state where voters aren’t necessarily opposed to more government if they agree with … what it’s trying to do,” he said.

Where opposition might make some headway is on the issue of the ten-cent charge. But by the time the measure comes up for a vote, it will have been in place statewide for a year at least, and in 40 percent of the state in local communities for a lot longer than that.

Thus far, over 120 local governments in California have passed ordinances banning single-use bags in some fashion.

“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 in signing the legislation. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

“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 Alex Padilla, who sponsored the legislation, added.

Each year, more than 13 billion single-use plastic bags are handed out by retailers. According to CalRecycle, just 3 percent 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 percent of all marine debris and 90 percent of all floating debris worldwide.

“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 Padilla.

The plastic bag industry always operated under the assumption that the bag ban would be unpopular, however, the initial polling undermines that belief. The question is how much the industry is willing to spend to prevent this ban and whether any amount of spending will be enough.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Dave Hart

    The mistake of this legislation is that it didn’t go into effect earlier.  Such a late start date allows the industry-funded opposition to mount a negative campaign before the public has a chance to experience the benefits of the law.  How many times in the past has a good idea gone down in flames when the money flows in and flushes out the calm, reasoned discussion?

  2. Davis Progressive

    so now we know that plastic bag bans aren’t so unpopular.  where as barack palin to tell us how this is going to get overturned?  wonder if he’s already celebrating his team, i mean the republicans, victory.

    1. Barack Palin

      Good morning DP, what a great day it is, it’s good to be alive.  I take anything that the ultra liberal LA Times puts out with a grain of salt.  What questions were asked?  Where did they concentrate their calls to?  Just look at the Senate races last night, most pollsters had the races being close but we found out that those polls were mostly wrong as the GOP won handily.

      1. Davis Progressive

        so you have evidence that the la times poll skews left?  should we also discount rasmussen, gallup and fox news because they skewed to the right last cycle?

        1. Davis Progressive

          you’ll note that polling team actually was bipartisan – there was Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the Democratic pollster and David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican half of the polling team.  that’s hardly a liberal poll.

    1. Davis Progressive

      the question is whether the polling company they hired to do the poll skews left or right?  you’ll note that polling company was bipartisan – there was Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the Democratic pollster and David Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican half of the polling team.  that’s hardly a liberal poll.

  3. Rich RifkinWDE 73

    I’m willing to bet that a real vote, not just a poll*, will prove the bag ban is unpopular in the main. I think it would pass with 60% or more of the vote if the industry gets an initiative on the ballot which says, “Shoppers in California should have the choice of bringing their own reusable bag for food or other merchandise or have the choice of using one provided by the merchant. No merchant shall be required to provide a shopping bag. No fees shall be charged to shoppers for a bag provided by the merchant, although stores have the option of giving a discount to those who bring their own shopping bags. This law will apply in all incorporated and unincorporated parts of California.”

    *There are a few problems with a poll. For one, it includes non-voters and unlikely voters. Second, it includes a share of people under 23 years old who rarely vote and do very little supermarket shopping, and thus don’t have a personal reason to find the bag ban inconvenient. And one more thing: a poll does not measure intensity. I have found that there is an intense dislike of the bag ban among people 50 and older, and they are the ones who vote the most. Except for extreme lefties, no one but those under 25 or those who are making money from it intensely loves the ban. Further, most people prefer choice, not bans.

    1. South of Davis

      Rich wrote:

      >  it includes a share of people under 23 years old who rarely vote

      > and do very little supermarket shopping,

      Don’t forget the growing number of people who rarely enter a grocery store since their kids get free breakfast and lunch at school and who typically hit the drive through for dinner…

      > Further, most people prefer choice, not bans.

      I find it funny how many “bag banners” have “I’m Pro Choice and I Vote” bumper stickers (just like I find it funny that most people that want “prayer in school” only want “one kind” of  prayer)…

        1. South of Davis

          wdf1 wrote:

          > How do you know that this is so?

          A fraternity brother and his family own more than a dozen fast food franchises in CA.

          He is a “visiting professor” at “Hamburger U” and has been working full time in the fast food business for 40+ years.

          We have been talking about the demographics of CA and sharing e-mails (and market data that he gets from his parent company for almost 30 years).



  4. Napoleon Pig IV

    Let me know if any merchant in Davis comes to the obvious conclusion that rather than sucking down the gift of pigs and charging each sheep 10 cents for a bag, since bags used to be free, a competitive advantage in the free market could be gained by keeping them free. Oink!

  5. Frankly

    The war on plastic bags are a perfect illustration of the sickness of activism.  Pursuing causes lacking justification or benefit for a feeling of relevancy and purpose.  I am just guessing here, but I bet most of the activists pushing plastic bag bans are retired or under-challenged public sector workers.  Had they been provided more challenging work, and been made to work more years like people in the private sector, they would quickly understand that their time and effort is lacking in utility, and that there are more important things to focus on.

  6. Frankly

    By the way… went to a local restaurant.  Purchased an order to go.  Put my last two single dollar bills and all the change from my order into the tip jar as I generally do.  The cashier tells my order is ready and I note the four containers on the counter.   I ask for a bag.  They only carry fabric bags for 25 cents.  I only had $100 bills.  They didn’t have the change.  I had to go to another place to break the $100 and come back.  They could not give me the bag for free because it would have been against the ordinance.  I will never go back.

    The activists in the city just hurt their business.  Yes they were stupid to not ask if I wanted a bag when I ordered, but like many of the restaurants in town they are worked by young college students lacking a fulling formed frontal lobe.

    Good job activists!

    1. Tia Will


      The “activists” are in no way responsible for your decision to penalize an individual business because you do not like their practice with regard to bags. That is your choice, and yours alone. I find it ironic that you choose to blame anyone else for your personal choice.

      1. Anon

        The customer always has the choice where s/he chooses to take their business.  Had activists not pushed this bag ban, the restaurant in question would not have been put in the position of alienating a customer by enforcing the ban.  And I can tell you from anecdotal experience, employees at stores are not happy with the bag ban because they know it does alienate customers, and the employees bear the brunt of the alienation.  The bag ban was a bad solution in search of a problem.

        1. Barack Palin

          I know a sandwich store in town that started to charge for paper bags.  When I confronted an employee on why they were doing since the store wasn’t part of the ordinance he stated that the owner was trying to be green but they were receiving a lot of complaints.  Next time I bought a sandwich there they didn’t charge me and had gone back to giving out free bags.

        2. Tia Will

          the restaurant in question would not have been put in the position of alienating a customer by enforcing the ban”

          It is the customer who chooses whether or not to feel “alienated”. He knows perfectly well that the individual store is not the culprit in having passed this bill, nor is the employee, and yet he chooses to take his spite out on them. I find this very, very strange coming from an individual who claims to stand for individual responsibility, not succumbing to a “victim” mentality, and addressing “root issues”.

          The bag ban was a bad solution in search of a problem.”

          It is precisely this kind of attitude that leads to “bans” instead of good choices. It is people refusing to see that having free plastic bags, the majority of which end up in land fills is not a problem. I know that you are deeply invested in our community. And yet you do not seem to perceive environmental issues ( with the exception of smog) as of any importance. This is truly baffling to me. I am not a fan of “bans” myself. I would much rather see consensus and voluntary change.  But if we will not as a society willingly reduce our own waste, perhaps we deserve the “ban” that we get.


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