With no margin to spare, the California Assembly has passed a bill that would ban all single-use carryout bags, including plastic bags, bio-based compostable and biodegradable bags, and paper bags with less than 40 percent recycled content.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, was passed June 2 with 41 votes the exact number needed for passage. It now heads to the Senate where it faces much tougher sledding, even though the proposed ban has the support of the California Grocers Association and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said he will sign the bill, AB 1998, if it gets through the Legislature.
The bill would ban single-use bags starting Jan. 1, 2012, at supermarkets and retailers with more than 10,000 square feet that have a pharmacy. The ban would be extended to convenience stores, food marts and other small retailers starting July 1, 2013.
When the ban is fully rolled out, grocers would be required to have reusable bags for sale or offer them for free. They could also sell paper bags with 40 percent recycled content, provided they charge at least 5 cents for them.
The bill would pre-empt local laws in the state that govern the use and sale of reusable bags, single-use carryout bags and recycled paper bags. Currently, four cities in California San Francisco, Fairfax, Palo Alto and Malibu have plastic bag bans.
Several other California cities have attempted to impose plastic bag bans, but have pulled back or had their bans overturned in court because they did not conduct an environmental-impact review as required by California state law.
Altogether, 12 communities in the U.S. have plastic bag bans. In addition, Washington, D.C., has a 5-cent fee on all plastic and paper carryout bags.
One reason the bill eked through the Assembly was that one day earlier, the California Grocers Association threw its support behind the bill.
However, plastic bag manufacturers and the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va., said that plastic bag recycling, not a ban, is the answer and argued that the proposed ban threatens the jobs of 500 employees in California and could put two Los Angeles area plastic bag manufacturers out of business.
ACC also argued that the proposal amounts to a $1 billion tax on consumers.
The last thing Californians need is something that acts just like a $1 billion tax added to their grocery bills. But that's what this legislation does, said Tim Shestek, ACC's Sacramento, Calif.-based senior director of state affairs in a statement.
With all the budget cutbacks in the state affecting schools, police and health care, Shestek said he doesn't understand why California is creating a new million-dollar bureaucracy to monitor how people take home their groceries.
He also expressed dismay over the bill's threat to rapidly dismantle the state's plastic bag recycling programs.
It was only a short four years ago that the Legislature voted for a statewide plastic bag recycling infrastructure, Shestek said. AB 1998 would cripple these programs and actually result in more waste going to landfills.
Exempt from the proposed ban are plastic bags used for prescription medicines, as well as those without handles that are used to package fresh foods such as produce, meat, fish, poultry and cheeses.
In addition, stores in San Francisco would still be permitted to sell compostable and biodegradable bags because of the availability of compost facilities there.
The bill would require that paper bags with 40 percent or more recycled content have printed on them the name of the manufacturer, the country where they are manufactured and the exact percentage of recycled material. Moreover, those manufacturers would have to have those bags certified by the state Department of Resources and Recycling every two years.
The bill defines reusable bags as those made of a washable material without lead or heavy metal in an amount that is toxic that are designed and manufactured for at least 100 uses.
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