Will California Be the First State to Ban the Plastic Shopping Bag?

By Andrew Moseman | June 3, 2010 11:40 am

plasticbagsHasta luego, plastic bags? This week the California State Assembly approved a measure to ban single-use plastic bags, and if the state’s Senate approves it too, California will likely become the first of these United States to ban the bags. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated that he supports the bill, and will sign it if it lands on his desk.

Shoppers who don’t bring their own totes to a store would have to purchase paper bags made of at least 40 percent recycled material for a minimum of 5 cents or buy reusable bags under the proposal, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2012 [San Francisco Chronicle].

Convenience and drug stores, as well as small businesses, would get a little longer to switch over. The law wouldn’t go into force for them until July 2013.

Previously, California’s fight over banning plastic bags at the state level had bogged down into a predictable back-and-forth: Green groups cited the 19 billion plastic bags Californians use every year, most of which don’t get recycled, while plastic industry people complained that such a rule is just a tax. The breakthrough, though, came when the California Grocers Association, led by David Heylen, decided it wanted the ban.

Cities such as San Francisco and Oakland already have bans, and 20 other California municipalities are considering similar laws. Heylen said there was a growing concern among grocery chains that a patchwork of laws would be untenable. Another important change was that the bill covered not just supermarkets but convenience stores and smaller markets [San Diego Union-Tribune].

The bill could go to the California Senate this year. Bot one thing that remains to be decided: If grocers charge more than 5 cents for a paper bag, where will the extra money go? It makes sense to offer a financial deterrent if you want people to use less plastic, as only so many people are going to buy reusable bags out of the goodness of their hearts (or to be more eco-conscious than their friends). But the San Diego Union-Tribune says that the money isn’t directed to particular recycling or other environmental programs, and grocers could charge more than the nickel per bag and pocket the difference.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: When Recycling Is Bad for the Environment
80beats: Plastic Is More Biodegradable Than We Thought (That’s Bad)
80beats: Ships Set Sail to Examine the Vast Patch of Plastic in the Pacific Ocean
80beats: Plastic-Devouring Bacteria Could Keep Soda Bottles Out of Landfills

Image: flickr / evelynishere

  • Mort

    Now, if municipalities or counties would encourage and support recycling of batteries, electronics and all of the other things that we either have to throw away or hoard. I live in a small town in Texas, where the only things we can recycle are newspaper and metals- with nowhere to take glass, cardboard, plastics, batteries, potting soil or electronics. I am sitting on a collection of this stuff, waiting for the city to get on the ball.

  • Pat


    I don’t know how close you live to a big city, but Best Buy recycles most electronics for free. They will take 2 items per day per person. The only exception is televisions and monitors. They charge $10 for each of those items, but you get a $10 Best Buy gift certificate in return.

  • YouRang

    19 million bags a year? What the average California doesn’t use even one bag?!!! 19 billion would be too high. So I am clueless as to how many bags they actually do use.

  • http://discovermagazine.com Andrew Moseman

    @YouRang Thanks for catching the typo, fixed. 19 billion is the actual #, according to the official sources, or more than 500 per person per year.

  • zenvelo

    what’s the concern about stores charging more than a nickel? If a store does that, customers will either (a) bring their own bag, or (b) pay extra, or (c) go shop somewhere else. A store won’t do it if people go elsewhere to shop.

  • Troy

    Plastic bags were banned here in South Australia years ago. You very quickly learn to do without them.

  • http://www.mentaldistortion.net Daniel

    Troy: but Americans hate to learn new tricks. They’ll go down fighting than willingly change and try something new.

  • http://www.brewbakerscafe.com Lita Coerver

    Yeah you should. It happens to be aspect of the hidden governments plans to promote widespread green strength use. and they previously have their investments ready to go. When food shortages, disease and famine begin to take place in mid 2010, eco-friendly vitality stock will rise unbelievably.

  • http://canvasmessengerbagssite.com/ Cassidy Schuh

    I’m loving my messenger bag. I can carry my books and gadgets and stuff. It really looks good and stlish too.

  • http://monte58battl.diaryland.com/100716_14.html Pauline Bothof

    He should stop quit being a politician and go back to being an actor.


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