Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Mike Kepka / The Chronicle
Plastic bags are outlawed at chain markets and pharmacies in San Francisco.
(06-02) 04:00 PDT Sacramento –
California would be the first state to ban plastic and most paper bags from grocery, convenience and other stores under a proposal that appears headed for a major legislative victory this week.
Shoppers who don’t bring their own totes to a store would have to purchase paper bags made of at least 40 percent recycled material for a minimum of 5 cents or buy reusable bags under the proposal, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2012. A spokesman for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he supports the bill, which will be voted on in the Assembly this week and could go to a Senate vote this year.
The measure would go further than plastic bag bans in at least five California cities, including San Francisco.
San Francisco’s ordinance applies only to chain supermarkets and pharmacies, but the state measure would bar the items from all food and convenience stores, and it would also restrict retailers from handing out free paper bags.
“AB1998 would ban all of the single-use bags that have been polluting our oceans and waterways and threatening marine life,” said the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica.
19 billon bags a year
Californians use 19 billion plastic bags a year, and the state spends more than $25 million annually to collect and bury the items, Brownley said. Environmental groups said only 5 percent of the bags are recycled, a figure the plastics industry disputes.
“It’s time for a uniform, statewide policy so consumers know what to expect wherever they go,” she said at a news conference in Sacramento on Tuesday. She was joined by actresses Amy Smart, Rosario Dawson and Rachelle Lefevre.
Environmental groups have pushed the ban for years, noting the damaging effects of plastic bags on the marine environment, particularly for animals that ingest or are entangled in bags. Business groups, including those representing grocery stores and the plastics industry, have argued against similar proposals in the past.
The measure got a big boost, however, when Brownley secured the support of the California Grocers Association, which represents chain and independent supermarkets, convenience stores and mass merchandisers in California and Nevada.
Ronald Fong, the group’s president, praised the bill as a “uniform statewide standard that will level the playing field” and make environmental gains “with the least disruption” to businesses. He said Tuesday that it is his group’s No. 1 legislative priority this year.
Environmental groups also cheered the bill’s creation of a statewide law. Sarah Abramson Sikich of Heal the Bay noted that 20 jurisdictions around the state are weighing similar bans but that the “patchwork is confusing for consumers and challenging for retailers.”
The plastics industry remains opposed.
Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council, which represents 140 companies, said the bill could put at least 500 manufacturing jobs in Southern California at risk, and that lawmakers should focus on recycling.
“This bill will result in increasing consumer grocery prices with the requirement to pay for paper bags. They will cost at least a nickel, and it could be higher,” he said. “We think recycling is the answer. Burdening Californians with a new tax or putting people in an unemployment line is not something the Legislature should be doing.”
Environmental advocates and Brownley, however, said the bill could be a sign of things to come. Oregon has introduced similar legislation, 14 states have laws dealing with the issue, and legislators in Washington, Florida, New Jersey and North Carolina have expressed interest in the California proposal, they said.
Brownley called the bill a “signal to the nation that we are going to wean off this costly habit,” though no one expects a federal ban anytime soon.
“I think, like many issues, Congress will wait and see what the states do on this,” said Daniel Jacobson, legislative director of Environment California. “Like so much of the good environmental work that has happened, California’s leadership will start it, we’ll see six or seven other states adopt it, and then members of Congress will start to pick it up from there.”
E-mail Marisa Lagos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page A – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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