California has suspended its plastic bag ban and loosened requirements on recycling centers for 60 days, a move Gov. Gavin Newsom said was needed to protect essential workers like grocery store clerks from exposure to the coronavirus.
Newsom suspended the bag ban with an April 23 executive order, joining other states like New York and Maine in pausing enforcement of carryout bag laws. But the state's grocery stores wanted governments in the Golden State to do more.
The California Grocers Association urged more than 150 cities and counties in the state with their own local bag bans or restrictions, which are not affected by Newsom's order, to also suspend their ordinances.
"For the safety of our valued grocery employees and consumers, and to provide consistency throughout the state, our industry is asking all local governments with carryout bag bans to similarly suspend their ordinance for at least 60-days," said CGA President and CEO Ron Fong.
CGA said it supported a return to full implementation of state and local bag laws when public health officials and the state government determine it is safe. California's 2016 state bag ban grandfathered in all local bag restrictions that were in effect before Jan. 1, 2015.
Environmental groups in the state, however, took a different approach. Californians Against Waste said that while retailers may have good intentions in asking for the law to be paused, suspending the bag ban was unnecessary.
CAW Executive Director Mark Murray said in a statement that reusable bags do not pose a threat to workers if customers bag their own groceries. He pointed to guidelines released earlier in April by the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration around use of reusable bags.
"Retailers, while maybe well intended, inflicted this costly and unnecessary wound on themselves by discouraging consumers from bringing their own bags," he said in a statement. "The simple and safe solution for consumers and stores is for everyone to bring their reusable bags and bag their own groceries in line with Cal-OSHA guidelines."
Newsom's order said it was necessary to suspend the ban because the coronavirus could be spread by exposure at retailers, beverage dealers and recycling centers.
"It is critical to protect the public health and safety and minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for workers engaged in essential activities, such as those handling reusable grocery bags or recyclable containers where recycling centers are not available," the order said.
His order also suspended for 60 days a state law requiring recycling centers to operate a minimum number of hours per week or remain open during specified periods of time.
The order also suspends in-store redemption of containers under the state's bottle bill, to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.