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