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California Senate rejects plastic bag ban

By: Gayle S. Putrich

May 30, 2013

California legislators again failed to approve a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. The 18-17 vote in favor of the bill in the state Senate failed to reach the 21-vote threshold for passage.

The Thursday vote marked the eighth attempt to ban plastic bags and tax paper ones in California, where 75 municipal and county laws either banning or taxing bags already exist. In spite of support for Senate Bill 405 from the California Grocers Association and a slew of environmental groups, the state Senate remains the stumbling block for bag legislation.

"Today's vote signals the facts have prevailed in this debate," said Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an interest group representing the United States' plastic bag manufactures and recyclers, in a news release. "A ban on 100 percent recyclable plastic bags would hurt the environment and threaten jobs."

Much of the argument against the most recent measure was made by senators from low-income districts who said their constituents would be hurt financially if required to pay a fee or purchase reusable bags as well as those who listed the myriad household uses for "single use" plastic bags.

The bill, which would have bared grocery stores and big box retailers from handing out single-use thin film bags and require a fee for paper bags, included stiff penalties for businesses: $500 for the first offense, $1,000 for the second and $2,000 per violation for all subsequent infractions. Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) said such "oppressive" fines were not something the mom-and-pop, minority owned businesses in his district could afford.

"This bill is an attack on low economic areas. It is an attack on minority-owned businesses," Calderon said on the Senate floor shortly before the vote. Opponents also said the bill would cost 2,000 jobs local in the plastics industry, mostly in working-class California communities.

Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the bill's author, argued that his district is far from wealthy and that his measure was about the environment and actually saving low-income districts money in the long run. "We're already paying for plastic bags," Padilla said. "It's not as if there's not a cost for all families today with the use of single-use plastic bags. There is also the impact, the cost to state and local governments for clean up, the attempts to recycle plastic and plastic bags especially."

The environmental group Californians Against Waste promised that the campaign to eliminate single-use plastic packaging and waste will continue.

CAW said in a statement that consumers are already cutting back single-use plastic bags -- bag consumption in California is at an estimated 14 billion bags per year, down from 21 billion in 2005.

CAW Executive Director Mark Murray said in the release: "... regardless of the outcome of this legislation this year, the fate of the plastic grocery bag is sealed -- the plastic grocery bag, which only came on the scene in the 1970s, will be extinct in California before the end of this decade."