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.


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.







18 Replies to “Environmental Win: California State Legislature Passes First Statewide Plastic Bag Ban”

  1. Great news! We need to all take steps forward to save our Earth!..this is good news! It’s a start, let’s keep it going.

  2. Here in Texas, our major grocery chain sells reusable grocery bags for one dollar and up, all different colors, with team logos (Spurs) and different designs. But on any given day, I find myself one of the few people using them. I think it’s going to take a big PR campaign in order to spread the word about the advantages of using these reusable bags.

  3. Not to mention that the plastic bags are made of a very high density polyethylene and recycled to make many new products. However the stuff is choking the oceans

  4. I thought Hawaii was the 1st to ban plastic grocery bags? The measure as I recall passed in February of 2014
    Hawaii Just Became the First State to BAN This Everyday Shopping Item by @thetomzone http://mic.cm/1jCKDZY

  5. Here in San Luis Obispo County (CA), the ban has been in effect for two years now. There was an initial and loud outcry from those less environmentally conscious, mainly regarding being inconvenienced and/or fattening the corporate wallets with a ten cents per paper bag charge, but the difference along the coastal highway has been awesome. No plastic bags blowing across the road or adjacent pastures and forests, no sea otters struggling under the pier while entangled in a bag. Even trash pick-up day is cleaner, no wayward plastic bags missing their target or flying out of the back of the truck. These are just examples on a small scale but, if the difference is this pronounced in just one county, I look forward with great anticipation to a cleaner, more environmentally responsible state.

  6. Legalize easily-produced, biodegradable, recyclable hemp. Also, its seeds make good chicken feed, as well as supplements for really contented cows.

  7. Joseph, from what I understand, not all of the islands are yet included in the ban, Oahu’s not taking effect until July of 2015. But they’re getting close!

  8. This whole ban is about money. People can still use the banned plastic bag. They just have to buy it themselves. The fee has no limit and does not go to save anything.
    Stores payed you to bring reusables to get people into the habit. It was worth that much to them. Someone came up with this idea and for the last 8 years have been telling people tales. The gyre, the turtles, the litter,(its only 0.06 percent of litter) Now they finally have the ban and the government gets the blame.

  9. I’m very pleased that California can be called #1 for something progressive for the first time in quite awhile. When I first moved here people laws were foremost and everything else came under. Slowly, though, corporations were put ahead of people, especially in the rental industries, and it became more difficult for people to file a claim against a lessor. So, congratulations, California, for helping the environment. Now just make sure fracking is outlawed within the state and offshore.

  10. Aldi’s and SaveAlot have plenty of customers. Quite a few stores have been prodding customers to do this for a good while. I’ve purchased a few reusable shopping bags myself, it’s not that hard to convert. I’m sure there will be dumb ass contrarians who will whine otherwise.

  11. I was going to comment on Aldi’s. We use them a lot for supplemental shopping, can goods, condiments, paper goods, and have had been using cloth bags for over a decade. The only “inconvenience” is remembering to bring them. ;)

  12. unfortunately, that’s not true. Its actually less about money and more about the big picture. If anything, its the oil companies that are spending millions to defend themselves and THEIR income. Having lived in Hawaii, Ill tell you factually that it’s there. Any place you heard differently is surely using false propaganda on the level of denying climate change.

    I work in a grocery store, and I try very hard to minimize the amount of plastic people take out of the store. Its exorbitant. Nobody cares, bagging and double bagging single items. Humans are generally near sighted and selfish. Hit them in the wallet, and theyll change.

    I assure you, for those of us who are awake and care about other things outside of ourselves, this is not about money. If anything, its about the loss of income for oil companies and bag manufacturers. Dont be ignorant.

  13. Just to be clear, oil is not used to make plastic bags. The virgin resin is made of ethylene gas and cracked with a catalyst under pressure.

    But some oil corps provide the ethylene to the plastic manufacturers, who make the real profit

  14. The plastic bag in America is a waste product made from natural gas. It exists whether it’s a plastic bag or not. I was a bagger too. The stores teach you to use as few bags as possible and only double bag on request. Now you even ask if they even need a bag for a few items. This bill replaces the plastic with a thicker plastic. The is all about profit. Open your eyes.

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