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California Legislators Want to Ban Plastic Bags. Period.

A new bill in the state legislature would ban the use of all plastic bags in retail outlets that sell food.

Norbert Sparrow

February 11, 2024

3 Min Read
produce in plastic bags
Necati Bahadir Bermek/iStock via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • In 2014, California passed a statewide ban on thin plastic single-use bags
  • SB 1053 and AB 2236 would eliminate the use of plastic film bags entirely at the checkout stands of grocery stores
  • Bill requires stores to provide 100% recycled paper bags or let consumers use reusable bags

There they go again. A trio of state lawmakers in California have introduced legislation to ban the use of plastic bags altogether by grocery stores and other outlets that sell food. At a press conference in Sacramento, CA, last week, Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas; Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica; and Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda; said it was time to “expand California’s single-use plastic bags ban to combat the state’s persistent plastic pollution problem,” according to a press release posted on Blakespear’s website.

SB 1053 and AB 2236 would eliminate the use of plastic film bags that are currently sold at the checkout stands of most grocery stores. In 2014, California passed SB 270, which placed a statewide ban on thin plastic single-use bags, which was upheld in a 2016 referendum. The law allowed shoppers to purchase a thicker plastic or paper bag for 10 cents, or to bring their own reusable bags.

A funny thing happened on the way to the recycling bin, though. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, the tonnage of plastic bags skyrocketed after passage of the law. By 2022, the tonnage of discarded plastic bags had risen by 47%. "Even accounting for an increase in the population, the number rose from 4.08 tons per 1,000 people in 2014 to 5.89 tons per 1,000 people in 2022," writes the Times, citing data from consumer advocacy group CALPIRG. The reason was that the law allowed thicker plastic bags, deemed reusable and recyclable, to be purchased by consumers. Many of them did not end up in the recycling stream.

Related:Can Paper Packaging Outperform Plastic for Foods?

“A decade ago, we were the first state to ban the thin throw-away bags, and two years ago we passed the first comprehensive single-use packaging law,” said Sen. Allen, who chairs the Senate Environmental Quality Committee. “We learned a lot in the years between those efforts, but since its conception, our bag ban policy has fallen behind those in other states. We can and must do better,” he is quoted as saying on Blakespear’s website.

The bill tightens standards for reusable bags and requires stores to provide 100% recycled paper bags or let consumers use reusable bags, said the press release.

If the bill passes the legislature, it will be up to Gov. Gavin Newsom to sign it into law. When he was mayor of San Francisco in 2007, he enacted the country’s first plastic bag ban.

The proposal is getting beaucoup love on X, but not everyone is buying it.

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Sen. Brian Dahle, R-Bieber, also blasted the proposal in an appearance on WDBD Fox 40 in Jackson, MS. In a comment on X, he noted that “California has a massive budget deficit, soaring crime, highest in the nation utility rates, a housing crisis, and a failing educational system — we should be addressing those critical issues, not adding another item to ban in California.” During the interview on Fox 40, however, he added that there are aspects of the legislation he supports. “I love the use of paper bags,” he said, because the district he represents is heavily forested and greater use of paper bags would help thin the forest and reduce fire risks, and “be a job creator in my district.”

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About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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