Waste Not
Plastic Bag Lobby Launches Attack on California Ban

Plastic bag manufacturers have begun collecting signatures for a referendum vote to overturn California’s recent ban on single-use plastic shopping bags. If the law’s opponents submit more than 500,000 signatures by January, the ban would not take effect until voters weigh in on the November 2016 ballot.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the historic statewide ban on plastic bags following one of the fiercest legislative battles of the year. In September, the California State Senate voted 22-15 to approve the ban, Senate Bill 270. The legislation implements a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags while promoting recycling and California manufacturing. It also provides financial incentives to maintain and retrain California employees in affected industries.

Specifically, SB 270 will:

  • Ramp up the use of recycled content for reusable plastic bags. In 2016, bags will be required to have 20 percent recycled content and in 2020 be made of 40 percent recycled content.
  • Support recycling of agriculture plastic film, which is currently sent to landfills.
  • Require large grocery store chains to take back used bags for continued recycling.
  • Require third-party certification of reusable plastic bags to ensure compliance with bag standards, which bill authors say will support California manufacturing.

The ban begins in 2015 for grocery store carry-out bags and creates a mandatory minimum ten cent fee for recycled paper, reusable plastic and compostable bags. Large grocery stores must stop carrying single-use bags by July 2015 while pharmacies, liquor stores and convenience stores must comply the following year. That is, unless the plastic bag manufacturers are successful in collecting the necessary number of signatures.

Plastic bag manufacturers are claiming the ban will kill jobs, and the 10-cent fee is a scheme to “fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets”. Interestingly, they even claim that the law will hurt the environment (go figure). The American Plastic Bag Alliance has spent at least $140,000 lobbying the California Legislature and the governor's office in the first six months of the year, record show.

Even if plastic bag manufacturers somehow manage to stifle California’s ban, it likely won’t be enough to stop the mounting momentum to ban plastic bags across the country, including in the cities of Chicago, Seattle and Austin. More than 100 cities and counties in San Francisco, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, already ban plastic shopping bags at checkout counters.

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