Ban the bags vs. Bag the bans: The fight rages on

February 05, 2013

The current population of California is estimated at about 37 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That's how many people will be impacted by a potential statewide plastic bag ban. 

California assembly member Marc Levine has introduced the legislation, Assembly Bill 158, to ban single-use plastic grocery bags throughout the entire state of California. If the ban becomes law, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2015, and grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales or retailers with more than 10,000 sq ft of floor space would be prohibited from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.

The legalization would allow those stores to provide recycled paper bags to customers from Jan. 1, 2015 to July 30, 2016. After that, the stores would charge a fee for paper bags. In addition, stores subjected to this bill would be required to make reusable grocery bags available for sale.

"This issue is being taken up at the local level in California as dozens of city councils and boards of supervisors consider resolutions banning plastic grocery bags. The elimination of plastic bags is inevitable and it is time for a statewide solution to this problem," Levine said. "I look forward to working with environmental advocates, plastics manufacturers, grocers, and retailers on crafting legislation that can be implemented expediently, effectively, and economically."

A similar style ban was introduced in 2010 and backed by grocers and then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the Senate rejected the bill. Currently, about 47 municipalities in California have adopted an ordinance banning plastic bags. 

If this bag ban bill goes through, there's no doubt it will make headlines. But while California is a trendsetting state in so many ways, it won't be the first state in the U.S. to pass such a law.

In May 2012, Honolulu county approved a ban of plastic bags at checkout counters, joining the state's three other counties that already enforced bans. This move made Hawaii the first to ban plastic bags statewide. 

In Oregon, the cities of Portland, Eugene and Corvallis have banned plastic bags. A statewide ban of plastic bags failed in 2011, and while the bill has returned to the senate, it has not found a sponsor yet.

State Sen. Alan Olsen of Oregon is a vocal opponent against banning plastic bags.

"It's a ridiculous ban; these bags take up a tiny fraction of the waste stream. If you ban plastic bags, what's next, going to ban books? The senate already banned BPA in baby bottles, so it proves our senate likes to ban things," he told PlasticsToday. "To tell you the truth, I'm disappointed plastic companies aren't doing more to fight the bans."

States that have introduced plastic bag bans and fees include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginian, Washington and Washington, D.C.

A tale of two attorneys

Pro-plastic bags

In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban non-compostable plastic bags at large supermarkets and pharmacies. Recently, the city expanded this ordinance to all retail establishments and restaurants.

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