Bloomberg News

California Lawmakers Poised for New Plastic Bag Assault

January 24, 2014

California Lawmakers Poised for New Assault Against Plastic Bags

Customers at Ralphs supermarket with plastic bags in Glendale, California. Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California would become the first U.S. state to ban disposable plastic bags under a deal reached between three Democratic state senators whose party controls the legislature.

Senators Alex Padilla of Pacoima, Kevin de Leon of Los Angeles and Ricardo Lara of Long Beach said in a statement yesterday they would announce legislation today to prohibit single-use bags.

California joins Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington in considering bans on disposable plastic bags, while eight more states are looking at taxes and fees to reduce use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About 90 cities and counties in California already have passed ordinances outlawing the sacks, according to Environment California, one of several groups advocating for local and statewide bans.

“Single-use plastic bags are one of the most common garbage items removed from California’s beaches,” Nathan Weaver, oceans advocate for the environmental group, said in a statement. “They are a direct threat to ocean wildlife.”

The plastic-bag industry has resisted efforts to outlaw its product, contending that the bans are being pushed by grocery-store chains motivated by profits on selling paper and reusable bags. Los Angeles required retailers to charge 10 cents for paper bags when the city ban took effect Jan. 1.

‘Cash Grab’

“It’s yet another job-killing, big-grocer cash-grab masquerading as an environmental bill,” Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry trade group, said in a statement. “Large grocery chains are pushing this bag ban and tax scam so they can keep the tax as a new revenue stream, all at the expense of their customers.”

Californians dispose of 19 billion plastic bags a year, accounting for about 2.2 percent of the state’s waste stream, according to a legislative analysis of a proposed plastic-bag ban in May 2013. The bags disproportionately end up in the ocean, the analysis said.

Padilla, who introduced a bill last year for a statewide ban, said he’d gained support from two fellow Democrats who opposed his previous bill. The measure, which needs 21 votes to pass the Senate, got 18 last year. If passed by the Senate, the bill would move to the Assembly, which is also controlled by Democrats.

John Mann, a spokesman for Padilla, said the new bill will mirror last year’s by banning plastic bags first at grocery stores and pharmacies, then at convenience stores; and allowing the use of recycled paper bags and reusable plastic bags as substitutes.

Last year, Los Angeles became the largest U.S. city to outlaw plastic shopping bags. San Francisco has banned the bags since 2007, according to PlasticBagLaws.org, which supports the laws. The District of Columbia imposed a ban in 2009, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Nash in Los Angeles at jnash24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net


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