Sending a powerful message nationally that the plastic pollution plague can be abated, California state legislators on Friday night approved landmark legislation that bans the distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags at grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies statewide.
On a 44-29 vote, the State Assembly on Thursday approved SB 270, a bill authored by Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) and Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) that seeks to end the environmental and fiscal waste created by Californians’ use of 13 billion single-use plastic shopping bags each year. The State Senate then provided concurrence tonight on a 22-15 vote.
The bill now goes to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who historically has supported progressive environmental policies statewide. He has until the end of September to act on the bill. The measure would take effect in July 2015.
Environmental group Heal the Bay led the legislative fight to enact a bag ban for more than seven years as part of its ongoing efforts to tackle plastic pollution in California waterways and neighborhoods. Heal the Bay played a central role in the drafting and enacting of similar bans in the city and county of Los Angeles, which created momentum for today’s statewide action.
“After years of pushing hard on this issue, it’s extremely gratifying to see the state of California act forcefully and progressively to protect our environment,” said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s science and policy director for water quality and a key architect of the ban campaign.
“For the small price of giving up a little convenience, we get the benefits of protected aquatic life, cleaner neighborhoods, and healthier rivers and coastal waters,” added James, who has made numerous lobbying trips to Sacramento on behalf of a statewide ban.
California municipalities spend nearly $25 million each year just to collect and dispose of plastic bag waste. Less than 5 percent of plastic grocery bags are recycled each year statewide, so the remainder clogs precious landfill, litters public spaces and harms animal life when the bags infiltrate waterways.
Shoppers who forget their reusable bags have the option of purchasing a recycled paper bag or reusable grocery bag at checkout. Heavy-duty reusable bags are convenient, environmentally friendly alternatives that have been embraced by hundreds of millions of consumers around the world.
SB 270 also had the crucial backing of the California Grocers Assn., the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the California Retailers Assn., whose members have sought a uniform and environmentally sound single-use bag policy statewide.
California now is poised to join a long list of governments that have enacted progressive curbs on single-use plastic bags, including China, Ireland and Mexico City.
Single-use bag policies can act as a gateway to get people thinking more sustainably in other areas of their lives, whether it’s skipping plastic water bottles or refusing drinking straws at restaurants.
Heal the Bay will continue to work with its partners to pursue solutions to prevent plastic pollution and single-use products from clogging our waste-stream and oceans.
The policy now turns its attention to a strong statewide trash policy that would compel cities and counties statewide to adhere to strict numeric limits on the amount of trash they send to rivers and coastal waterways.