Two new bills that would ban all plastic bags from grocery stores and other stores were unveiled on Thursday, potentially marking the complete end of all plastic bags in stores.
Assembly Bill 2236 and Senate Bill 1053, authored by Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda) and Senator Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas) respectively, would remove the option to have any kind of plastic bag at food stores and convenience stores. Both bills would act as an expansion of SB 270, a 2014 bill that was ultimately approved of by voters in 2016 as Proposition 67, which had banned all one time use plastic bags and only allowed thicker plastic bags to be purchased in stores.
Both Assemblywoman Bauer-Kahan and Senator Blakespear wrote their bills due in large part because of how studies found that most Californians were either not recycling those bags or were still using the thicker bags as one time only bags, despite being designed to be used multiple times. According to one state study cited by Blakespear, the amount of plastic shopping bags trashed per person grew from 8 pounds per year in 2014 to 11 pounds per year in 2021, despite the massive law change. Both also acknowledged how plastic bags were still causing environmental damage, and that a total ban was the only way to stop it. Some coastal cleanup surveys also found that volunteers have collected over 300,000 plastic grocery bags in the last three decades.
“If you have been paying attention – if you read the news at all in recent years – you know we are choking our planet with plastic waste,” said Senator Blakespear at a press conference on Thursday. “A plastic bag has an average lifespan of 12 minutes and then it is discarded, often clogging sewage drains, contaminating our drinking water and degenerating into toxic microplastics that fester in our oceans and landfills for up to 1,000 years. It’s time to improve on California’s original plastic bags ban and do it right this time by completely eliminating plastic bags from being used at grocery stores.
“[Studies show] that the plastic bag ban that we passed in this state in 2014 did not reduce the overall use of plastic. It actually resulted in a substantial increase in plastic. We are literally choking our planet with plastic waste.”
Bauer-Kahan added, “Ten years ago, California attempted to ban plastic bags to stem pollution. Yet, these insidious relics persist, choking our waterways, imperiling wildlife, and despoiling our ecosystems. AB 2236 and SB 1053 are our battle cry against plastic pollution. With tougher rules and a push for eco-friendly alternatives, we’re ready to kick plastic bags to the curb and reclaim our environment.”
— Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (@BauerKahan) February 8, 2024
In addition to the backing of many environmental groups and grocery store organizations including the California Grocers Association, many Senator and Assembly members gave the bill their backing on Thursday. Experts told the Globe on Thursday that the bill was likely to pass later this year, and Governor Gavin Newsom would sign the bill. As Mayor of San Francisco in 2007, then Mayor Newsom signed the first city-wide plastic bag ban in the nation. As he has continued to show approval towards such bans, him signing a bill would be likely.
“Around half of California still has these thicker plastic bags at food stores and places like that, as many local laws already have a total ban in place,” Ellie Bridger, an environmental scientist who helps advise on some political campaigns, told the Globe. “Oh, and that study finding that more plastic bags were taken in 2021? That study is a bit skewed, since that was a pandemic year and plastic bags and other plastic things were kind of relaxed because of their need in things like shopping and food delivery. So there was a big bump up in the discarding of them, especially since not many people were going outside for cleanup efforts and trash services became spotty. There’s always a bigger story to these studies.”
“But, skewed studies aside, a lot of people are having problems with them because of environmental reasons. A lot of people just have not stopped using them, largely out of convenience. But if this bill passes, you’ll either have to bring your own bags to stores, or buy paper ones there. You know, there was a huge effort to not use paper bags several decades ago because of how many trees they cut down for them, but because of the extent of recycling now, they are now the best option for people too lazy to bring some tote bags with them.”
“Upside to this bill is a better environment. However, without a plastic bag option, we are going to see a lot of consumers get a bit angry over being forced to use paper or ones they brought. As long as the bills give some leeway and give plenty of notice before the switch, most people will likely tolerate it, as a lot of people already just bring their own bags with them. But we’ll see just what the backlash is later this year. We saw big backlash over this in 2014 and 2016. Remember, Prop 67 only passed with a 53% of the vote, and that was for a partial ban. Reaction to a total ban could be a lot worse.”
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