Why California needs a new plastic bag ban?

We're working to strengthen our ban on plastic grocery bags.

Beyond plastic

Staff | TPIN

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We’ve known for a long time that plastic bags are wasteful – we don’t really need them and they create plastic pollution in our communities and environment. Plastic bags don’t degrade and aren’t recyclable, so every bag we’ve ever used is still out there somewhere, littering our streets or harming our environment.  

What’s worse, plastic breaks down into small pieces called microplastics that have been found in every part of the globe, including human bodies, potentially exposing us to harmful compounds and additives.  

Nothing we use for a few minutes should threaten our health and pollute our environment for hundreds of years—especially when it’s “stuff” we don’t need.

That’s why we’re working to ban all plastic carryout bags at grocery stores in California, including those slightly thicker plastic bags that are common at grocery checkout stands today. 

The good news is that our legislature is currently considering a new law that would do just that. Senate Bill 1053 and Assembly Bill 2236 would ban all plastic film bags from being provided at grocery stores in California. 

The legislation would improve upon an existing law that we helped pass back in 2014 that intended to ban plastic bags in grocery stores. However, the law is no longer working as intended. Especially in the last few years, plastic bag companies have circumvented the law’s intent by mass producing thicker plastic bags that they claim are exempt from the law because they can technically be reused. The reality is that few people actually reuse them. Instead they end up as trash and harm our environment just as much as the thinner ones did. And because they are thicker, plastic bag waste by weight actually increased in the last few years to the highest level on record

We know well-designed plastic bag laws work, and are effective at reducing plastic pollution. The state of Vermont has banned all plastic bags at stores and restaurants and data from a survey comparing plastic bag use before and after the ban’s implementation, the bag ban saves an estimated 191 million bags per year.

It’s time for California to follow the lead of other states and get rid of the dreaded plastic bag once and for all. 

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Jenn Engstrom

State Director, CALPIRG

Jenn directs CALPIRG’s advocacy efforts, and is a leading voice in Sacramento and across the state on protecting public health, consumer protections and defending our democracy. Jenn has served on the CALPIRG board for the past two years before stepping into her current role. Most recently, as the deputy national director for the Student PIRGs, she helped run our national effort to mobilize hundreds of thousands of students to vote. She led CALPIRG’s organizing team for years and managed our citizen outreach offices across the state, running campaigns to ban single-use plastic bags, stop the overuse of antibiotics, and go 100% renewable energy. Jenn lives in Los Angeles, where she enjoys spending time at the beach and visiting the many amazing restaurants in her city.

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