Environmental Win: California State Legislature Passes First Statewide Plastic Bag Ban

Environmental Win:  California State Legislature Passes First Statewide Plastic Bag Ban

plastic bags

As Governor Rick Perry faces an impending indictment, the state he openly criticized just passed one of the the most progressive environmental bans in the nation.


Maybe the governor should have reconsidered his criticism of the Golden State.

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In a late night vote on Friday evening, the California Senate voted 22-15 to ban single-use plastic bags, making it the first state in the nation to approve such a measure.  The vote actually fell three votes short in the State Assembly on Monday, but was able to muster enough support on Thursday to advance the bill, known as SB 270.  With the California legislature prepared to end its legislative session this weekend, the bill quickly advanced to the California Senate, where it passed with relative ease.  The bill now heads to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for approval by September 30th.


Leading up to the passage of SB 270, California had already had over 120 cities and counties ban plastic bags at the local level.  The bill was sponsored by state Senators Alex Padilla, Kevin de Leon, and Ricardo Lara.  Padilla, a powerful state senator who is running for secretary of state said, “Single-use plastic bags not only litter our beaches, but also our mountains, our deserts, and our rivers, streams, and lakes.”  This issue became especially important to California voters, who expressed concern that both the state’s coastlines and well as marine life would continue to be harmed by the plastic from these bags.  In addition, environmentalists have been pushing for the ban of these plastic bags as they have been proven to create mountains of trash and are extremely difficult to recycle.  The advocacy group Californians Against Waste estimates that 10 billion single-use bags are used in the state every year.


Despite these powerful arguments in favor of the ban, SB 270’s passage still seemed uncertain after the Monday vote.  Fortunately, Padilla and his Democratic colleagues went to work and were able to convince six Democratic assemblymen to vote in favor for the measure after previously withholding their votes.  Helping to convince the assemblymen to vote in favor of the measure was the fact that at the last minute the United Food and Commercial Workers Union jumped on board to support the bill.  This, despite a target onslaught by out-of-state manufactures campaigning against the bill as well as specific television ads targeting Padilla, was enough to convince the assemblymen to come forward and give the bill the votes it needed to advance to the state senate.


The impact of the bill will be gradual to help businesses adjust to the new law.  The law is geared toward businesses that primarily use thin plastic bags as a way to sell its products to its customers.  Going forward, both grocery stores and pharmacies would have to phase out these single-use plastic bags by July 1, 2015.  However, grocery stores would be able to sell reusable plastic bags as well as being able to sell paper bags to customers for a minimum of 10 cents.  In addition, both convenience and liquor stores would have until July 1, 2016 to phase out their plastic bags.  This transition is done as a way to gradually alter customer buying habits.  The hope is that customers will be able to adopt to the change and will simply have their own reusable bags for use every time they go to either a grocery store, pharmacy, convenience store, or liquor store.


Arguments against the bill have been centered around the idea of job losses due to increased production costs.  However, with both the California Grocers Association and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union supporting the bill, opponents quickly found themselves running out of sources to help support their economic argument against in the bill.  In the end, it simply came down to a common sense solution to a completely unnecessary consumer spending habit.


In addition, the passage of this bill represents the power of the California environmental grassroots movements.  Organizations like Environment California were some of the major supporters of this bill and it was through their work and their growing membership that helped get the ball rolling on the bans in the nearly 120 cities.  Nathan Weaver, an oceans advocate for the organization, issued a statement of behalf of the organization where he said:


“This important step forward shows that we can achieve lasting victories for ocean and environmental health.  Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our oceans for hundreds of years.  I congratulate Senators Padilla, de Leon, and Lara for their victory today, and I thank them for their leadership to protect our environment.”


For a state often seen as the progressive leader in the country, the passage of this bill sets California up as being a testing ground for the new plastic bag ban law.  Much as the eyes of the nation were turned to Colorado for its recreational marijuana law, the eyes of the nation will now focus on California to see the implications of SB 270.  However, with one-third of the state already having a plastic bag ban in place, it seems unlikely that anything out of the ordinary will happen, despite the inevitable doomsday predictions that the new law will cause the entire California economy to crumble due to massive job loss.  When all is said and done, odds are that life will go on as usual with the sole exception that the state will be able to avoid having 10 billion bags out in the environment simply by having people bring their own bags to stores.


All and all, not a bad deal to help save the planet.







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