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Following Millbrae's Footsteps, Bag Ban Battle Rises to State Level

A Bay Area Assemblyman wants to prohibit single-use plastic bags in California in 2015.

A once-failed effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags across California has been recycled by a Marin County Assemblyman, though much of the Peninsula, including Millbrae, has already eliminated plastic bags in grocery stores.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) introduced the legislation earlier this month that would prohibit single-use plastic bags beginning in 2015.

Levine resurected a failed 2011-12 proposal by termed-out Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, Assembly Bill 298. That legislation cleared the Assembly floor in 2011 but faced opposition from plastic bag manufacturers and grocers and was never heard by the 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 in a press release. "Additionally, there are several easily available and affordable alternatives to plastic bags. We need to ban these bags once and for all."

The success of his proposed law may hinge on the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition
efforts of a Tiburon man, who has challenged a Marin County ban. Several municipalities are still waiting for a resolution to his litigation before proceeding with their own prohibitions.

  • Belmont, Menlo Park, South San Francisco and Foster City are latest San Mateo County municipalities to ban plastic bags. The prohibitions, approved earlier this month, all go into effect on April 22, Earth Day. Pacifica's ban, which was OK'd in December, is also slated to go live on Earth Day.
  • San Mateo County and Millbrae also have plastic bag bans on the books.
  • The Half Moon Bay City Council is expected to consider a similar prohibition next month.

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," Bag the Ban spokeswoman Raquel Bubar 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," Bubar said.

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?

carole mason January 31, 2013 at 07:54 PM
god help us have they got nothing better to do? we know about plastic bags we are not idiots, idiot. but then again somoeone voted you into office. the state is on the verge unemployment is out of ocntrol, businesses are leaving the state and taking their taxes with them and you want to ban plastic bags you idiot....this is too much. Bring a bloody cloth bag to the store and if people want things to change they will do it themselves...duh
Antonio Catpo February 04, 2013 at 03:33 PM
Thank you Mr. Levine !!!!. It was time to do something about the polution created by plastic bags. I'm so proud living in California, a state that is always a pioneer in environment protection.

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