California advances bill to strengthen ban on plastic bags

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s state Senate and Assembly each passed identical bills on Tuesday that would strengthen California’s ban on single-use plastic grocery bags.. Sen. Catherine Blakespear’s (Encinitas) SB 1053 passed the Senate by an initial 30-7 vote and Asm. Rebecca Bauer-Kahan’s (Orinda) AB 2236 passed the Assembly by a 51-7 vote. Their passage marks an important step in addressing California’s plastic waste crisis by closing a loophole that allows grocery stores to provide thick plastic bags for a fee. The bills each need to be approved by the other legislative house and then signed by the Governor. 

“California’s current bag ban law, which allows businesses to replace thin plastic bags with supposedly reusable ones at checkout, clearly is not working,” said Jenn Engstrom, state director of CALPIRG. “Plastic companies mass-producing thicker bags circumvent the law’s intent. Then, inevitably, discarded bags pollute our communities and environment. We’re thankful the state legislature is taking action to finally ban plastic grocery bags once and for all.”

Californians generated 231,000 tons of plastic bag waste, an all-time high for one year, in 2021, the last year for which we have complete data. The increase in plastic bag waste shows that despite the best intentions of the current statewide bag law, Californians are not reusing or recycling them.

“California’s original ban on plastic bags hasn’t worked out as planned, and sadly, the state’s plastic bag waste has increased dramatically since it went into effect,” said Sen. Blakespear. “We need to do better. Shockingly, some 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions alone. California must do its part to eliminate this scourge that is contaminating our environment.”

AB 2236 and SB 1053 redefine “reusable bag” to ban all plastic film bags in grocery stores and some retail stores. Stores can still provide a paper bag made of 50% postconsumer recycled materials for the same 10-cent fee.

These bills will help address the threats plastic production and disposal pose to the environment and public health. Since plastics are mostly made from fossil fuels, their production releases toxic substances into our air and water. 

“Plastic has become the new front in the fight against big oil,” said Asm. Bauer-Kahan. “AB 2236 is our battle cry against plastic pollution. We can’t let companies continue polluting with a new market of oil-based products. With tougher rules and eco-friendly alternatives, we’re ready to kick plastic bags to the curb and reclaim our environment.”

Plastic bags don’t degrade and are difficult to recycle, so they end up being incinerated, overflowing in landfills, littering our streets, waters and land. Plastic also breaks into smaller microplastics, which have been discovered in every corner of the globe and even inside human bodies.

“Nothing we use for just a few minutes should pollute the environment for centuries,” said Laura Deehan, state director for Environment California. “We’re optimistic that this important update to our plastic bag law will reduce plastic waste, help protect wildlife and build a cleaner, greener, healthier future for everyone.

By strengthening its existing ban, California would significantly cut single-use plastic bag consumption. According to a recent report by CALPIRG Education Fund and Environment California Research & Policy Center, well-designed laws effectively reduce plastic pollution. The state of New Jersey has banned all plastic bags at stores and restaurants. The New Jersey Plastics Advisory Council estimates the law eliminates 5.51 billion plastic bags per year. 

California’s original bag ban law, SB 270, passed the state legislature in 2014, and was defended at the ballot in 2016 with Proposition 67. 

“California voters thought they had banned plastic bags in 2016 with the passage of Prop 67,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. “With the passage of these companion measures establishing a complete ban of plastic bags, California is on the verge of making that voter sentiment a reality.”

More than 30 environmental and public health organizations, more than 60 local elected officials, the California Grocers Association, and International Paper supported SB 1053 and AB 2236.

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