22 Aug 2014
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North Bay Leading the Effort to Ban Plastic Bags

Assemblyman Marc Levine wants to prohibit single-use plastic bags in California by 2015.

North Bay Leading the Effort to Ban Plastic Bags North Bay Leading the Effort to Ban Plastic Bags


A once-failed effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags across California has been recycled by Assemblyman Marc Levine, again making Marin and Sonoma counties the focus of the battle of the bag ban in the state.

Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced legislation earlier this month that would prohibit single-use plastic bags beginning in 2015. He resurrected a failed 2011-12 proposal (AB 298) by termed-out Assemblywoman Julia Brownley. That legislation cleared the Assembly floor in 2011 but faced opposition from plastic bag manufacturers and grocers and was never heard by the state Senate, according to the Sacramento Bee.

"To continue the use of these bags would ignore the convincing body of global evidence proving that these bags are having a drastic effect on marine ecocultures," Levine said. "Additionally, there are several easily available and affordable alternatives to plastic bags. We need to ban these bags once and for all."

Levine's move once again puts the North Bay at the forefront of the efforts to regulate the use of plastic bags.

On Jan. 25, 2011, the Marin County Board of Supervisors unanimously banned the distribution of plastic bags at grocery stores and markets that sell food. The ordinance also imposes a 5-cent fee for each paper bag a shopper needs because they forgot to bring a reusable bag. The ban, which went into effect in January 2012, only applies to unincorporated Marin, though a number of grocery chains within city limits have voluntarily complied.

Sonoma County has discussed a similar ban, but has so far not passed any measures.

The success of Levine's proposed law may hinge on the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition efforts of Tiburon resident Stephen Joseph, who has challenged the Marin County ban with a lawsuit. That lawsuit has kept other cities and towns from following the county and they are still waiting for a resolution to his litigation before proceeding with their own prohibitions. 

Bag manufacturers remain staunchly opposed to eliminating plastic bags from grocery store checkout stands. Bag the Ban, a project of recycled content high density polyethylene bag manufacturer Hilex Poly, call the bans "trendy" and legislation that “feels good to pass."

"Legislators should instead be spending time and money on legislation that has a positive impact for families and the economy," a Bag the Ban spokeswoman said.

Here are the fundamentals of Levine's proposal:

  1. Beginning on January 1, 2015, full-line grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales or retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of floor space would be prohibited from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.
  2. From January 1, 2015 to July 30, 2016, stores above could provide recycled paper bags to customers.
  3. Stores subject to this bill would be required to make reusable grocery bags available for sale.

He says it will help reduce litter and protect marine wildlife. Plastic bags account for about 10 percent of trash that washes up on beaches, according to Levine. Worldwide, it's believed people use about 500 billion plastic bags annually.

Opponents say that means the problem is litter, not plastic bags, according to CalWatchdog, a journalism venture covering the state capitol.

There also has been criticism how dirty reusable bags get.

"And unfortunately, most shoppers are completely unaware that, without proper cleaning, reusable shopping bags can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food-borne illness," according to Bag the Ban.

The cost of reusable bags has come under fire as well. Although it seems every store, community group and company gives out free reusable bags, many customers purchase them when they checkout. Under Levine's bill, grocery stores will have to provide paper or reusable bags to low-income customers.

"Levine’s bill will impose another unnecessary tax on the consumer and once again penalize private industry," CalWatchdog opined.

Dozens of communities around the country have banned single-use plastic bags in recent years, Plastics News reported. In California, about 16 percent of the state's population is covered by a single-use plastic bag prohibition, according to Californians Against Waste.

It hasn't been perfect, though. Complaints from consumers range from trouble remembering their reusable bags to no longer having plastic bags to clean up their dog's poop. About 90 percent of Americans reuse their plastic bags at least once, for everything from storage to waste disposal to packing material, according data from Bag the Ban.

Do you support a statewide ban on plastic bags at grocery stores? Please comment below.

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