WASHINGTON — As summer heats up across the country, so are efforts to rid communities of single use plastic shopping bags.
Across California bag bans and taxes continue to pile up following another failed attempt at a state-wide ban in the California state legislature, with Los Angeles drawing the biggest headlines. The second largest U.S. city, with a population of about 3.9 million, will bar single use thin film bags as of Jan. 1, 2014 and charge shoppers 10 cents for paper bags. The ban will kick off applying only to large grocery stores but will include smaller retailers as well, starting in June 2014.
Unincorporated Los Angeles County and a long list of municipalities within the county already had a bag bans of their own.
In an effort to combat the common argument that bag bans adversely impact the poorest shoppers the most, the city plan to distribute 1 million reusable bags in low-income areas of the city.
An identical bag ban — eliminating the plastic option and charging 10 cents for paper — went into effect July 1 in Glendale, Calif., just north of Los Angeles. The new law so far applies to large grocers, farmer’s markets and stores of at least 10,000 square feet of retail space with a licensed pharmacy. On Jan. 1, 2014 the ban will extend to small grocers, food markets, liquor stores, convenience stores, drug stores and pharmacies.
Richmond, Calif., will also ban plastic bags starting Jan. 1, imposing a 5-cent paper bag fee that will jump to 10 cents per bag after two years. In spite of some pushback and abstentions on the vote from fellow council members, the bill’s sponsor celebrated the June approval of the county’s first bag law.
"I always like to be the first across the finish line, but I'll take first in Contra Costa County instead," Councilman Tom Butt said. The city is known for being the first municipality to attempt to tax sugary beverages, though the effort was thwarted by 60 percent of voters.
A bag ban Sonoma County, California, is still in the works after a 4-1 vote in favor of a ban on plastic bags and a 10-cent fee for paper in June. The measure still needs unanimous support from all 10 members of the county’s waste management agency board, which is expected to vote in August.
Supporters of a California-wide law regulating or taxing plastic bags argued their measure would be preferable to the growing patchwork of regulations blanketing the state, but the effort to pass such a law has failed five times so far.
Not to be outdone by the West Coast, New York City Councilman Brad Lander has revived attempts to ban plastic bags in the largest U.S. city. So far, however, there has been no action from the New York City Council since Lander’s measure was introduced in June. In February, Mayor Michael Bloomberg also proposed banning polystyrene food packaging in New York City; a bill was introduced June 13 and has been referred to the Sanitation and Solid Waste Management Committee.
But upstate, in Tompkins County, N.Y. — home to Ithaca and Cornell University — a July 1 draft ordinance banning plastics bags from all retailers is under consideration. The proposed law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2014 for any retailer over 5,000 square feet and Jan. 1, 2015 for all other retailers.
Debate also continues to rage in Baltimore, Md., where a law is already on the books — though largely ignored — barring merchants from giving consumers a bag unless they expressly ask for one. The bag reduction law, which even the City of Baltimore’s sustainability office now calls “unsuccessful,” was considered a compromise measure after attempts to levy a 25-cent per bag tax or ban them altogether were met with heavy resistance from bag manufacturers and local merchants.
Councilman Brandon Scott introduced a bill June 10 that would require all stores city-wide to charge shoppers 10 cents per bag, down from his originally intended 25 cents, with stores keeping 2 cents per bag and the rest going to the city’s parks and recreation coffers. Even with support from Councilman James Kraft and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore bag ban effort is apparently being stymied. A hearing on the bill scheduled for July 2 was cancelled without explanation. The Maryland Retailers Association, Maryland Food Dealers Council and Baltimore City Food Policy Advisory Committee have all come out against the bill.
Nearby, in Montgomery County, Md., officials are considering making changes to its bag fees, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2012. A new proposal would limit the bag tax to only retailers who gross more than 2 percent of their sales from food and exempt bags for take-out food.
Earlier this year, Del. Mary Washington of Baltimore City, introduced House Bill 1086 in Annapolis, which included a state-wide 5 cent plastic bag fee. While it garnered support of the Trash Free Maryland Alliance, 33 co-sponsors and 10 co-sponsors for its state Senate counterpart, the measure never made it out of committee.