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California Getting Closer To Banning The Bag

July 8th, 2010 · No Comments

California plastic bag ban from all commercial establishments. AB 1998, the plastic bag ban bill has passed a crucial committee vote

Paper or Plastic? In this video from National Geographic, Edward Norton describes a simple easy step everyone can take to help clean up the environment.

California may very well be on the way to be the first state to ban single-use plastic bags from grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, and other commercial establishments statewide. California Assembly Bill 1998 went through another hurdle last week when it passed out of the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee by a 5-2 vote.

Bring Your Own Bag (BYOB)

AB 1998, sponsored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), proposes to ban the use of plastic bags in groceries and other stores, in which these ubiquitous bags are given out to customers for free. The bill will also obligate stores to charge a nickel (5¢) for every reusable and biodegradable paper bag that customers may request from the counter. Basically, it seeks to encourage Californians to practice what other shoppers are already doing in many parts of the world – bring their own reusable tote bags every time they go to the grocery store.

“I think the proliferation of plastic bags is unnecessary, and it’s a pollutant, an urban tumbleweed,” says Assemblywoman Brownley.

Major Environmental Impact

Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste noted the severe impact of massive amounts of plastic bags that are swept into the ocean from California’s coastal areas:

“When those bags are floating around in the marine environment, they tend to mimic food. So marine life, whether it’s birds or sea turtles, will consume the bags thinking they’re prey.”

The LA Times, in an editorial which came out in support of AB 1998 last month, cited the presence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch off the coast as one good reason why the bag should be banned:

“It’s not surprising that carry-out plastic bags make up so much of the patch; they constitute the third most common trash item found on California beaches.”

The impact of plastic bags in California, however, is not just in the environmental destruction that they cause. Californians use (and throw away) 19 million plastic bags a year and to clean up this mess, the state spends more than 100 million dollars annually. Once the legislation is in place and the presence of plastic bags significantly reduced or eliminated, that money could obviously be applied to other programs, in a state that needs every single cent of it.

Economic reasons to ban the bag

A host of environmental groups, local councils, prominent personalities, and trade groups have come out to support the bill. One major supporter, the California grocers lobby, for instance, observed that a statewide legislation would rationalize the numerous bans and ordinances already existing in cities and counties throughout the state.

Banning plastic bags have been implemented successfully in many parts of the world these last ten years. Countries like Canada (Toronto), Ireland, and China, which ban plastic bags and impose a fee on reusable bags that customers (who didn’t bring their own bags) request from the cashier, have experienced tremendous success and have seen massive reduction of this pollutant.

Noting that in the entire United States, 92 billion disposable plastic bags are used every year, Mary Catherine O’Connor at Triple Pundit, writes about what is perhaps the most compelling economic argument for a nationwide bag ban:

The Worldwatch Institute figures that by banning free plastic bags since 2008, China “reduced plastic bag usage there by 66 percent, and saved some 1.6 million tons of petroleum.” That’s through a reduction of 40 billion bags, meaning the US could reduce demand for oil by more than 3 million tons of petroleum in two years.

Final Hurdles

AB 1998 still has to go through the Senate Appropriations Committee, and pass a final vote by the Assembly and the Senate before it can be signed into law by Gov. Schwarzenegger in September. It won’t be an easy passage, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. The bill has some very powerful and natural opponents, like the plastic bag industry’s lobby.

Any bill, no matter how sensible, will always have it’s own opposition. The plastic guys, of course, stand to lose a large chunk of their income once this bill goes into effect. Naturally, they’re fighting tooth and nail to thwart the legislation trying to zero in on the fee and frame it as a new tax and an assault on freedom. Emotionally-loaded arguments like these seem to be the standard comeback of big businesses these days, when they know that they can’t prevail in a logical and thorough discussion of the issues involved.

I hope the California legislators will be able to see through such disingenuous and cynical posturing by the bill’s opponents and pass AB 1998. It’s the right and sensible thing to do. Let’s ban the bag, already.

Tags: Plastic Recycling