California statewide Plastic Bag Ban passes Sept. 30

On Sept. 30, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 270, a statewide ban in line with Davis City ordinance 2422, which went into effect July and banned all single-use plastic bags in the city.

Many cities and towns throughout the state had been switching over to this “waste-free” model before SB 270 was signed. Now California will be the first in the country with a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags — “[the] first step, in a series of many” to clean up our environment, said Emily Kowalski, the CalPIRG campus organizer at UC Davis.

“We were pretty excited. When we first started this [CalPIRG] campaign we tried to pass a statewide bill and were unsuccessful, really because there hadn’t been that discussion on bag bans yet, locally,” she said.

Kowalski believes thorough circulation of knowledge on the benefits of a bag ban was missing from California towns. Additionally, she believes that the bag ban is not the end of the state’s environmental concerns.

Along with almost completely removing these “non-reusable” plastic take-out bags, stores have been required to charge a minimum 10-cent fee for recycled paper bags. The 10 cents fee serves as an incentive for customers to stop using any resources, paper or plastic, according to Davis City mayor Dan Wolk.

Critics are concerned with where the money will be going. Due to the bag fee critics say that grocers are making extra income and neglecting to lower prices in accordance to increased revenue. In a Capital Public Radio report featuring Cathy Brown, manager of Crown Poly, the ban was criticized, citing  the sudden change in large grocers’ support for the bill was manipulated by the extra revenue that the bag ban would bring in. The charge goes directly into the grocer’s pockets and in doing so creates an incentive for these companies to jump on board with the bill.

Mark Murray, an advocate for Californians Against Waste, believes having to pay 10 cents per bag is not enough of an issue to prevent residents from supporting the statewide ban.

“You’ve always been paying that 10 cents for bags, it’s just been hidden in the price of your groceries,” Murray said.

However, asking consumers if they require a bag for 10 cents, creates a sort of dialogue that requires the consumer to think about the necessity of using a bag, or lack thereof. In reality, the mandatory charge for paper bags could be an important step in educating California residents on reducing or completely eliminating unnecessary waste.

Critics also say that if the 10-cent cost is not a cause for alarm, maybe the massive loss of jobs is. Five of the major single-use plastic bag producing companies, including Crown Poly, are local to California. According to Brown, that’s hundreds of jobs on the line that are not only being removed from California, but are being taken overseas. Brown points out that the replacement bags would be “polypropylene bags that are [primarily] manufactured in China.”

“We are using public policy,” Brown said, “to hurt California and U.S. manufacturing in favor of jobs and product being made and imported to the U.S. from overseas.”

Wolk believes those fears are rational. Though the bag ban comes with many pros, unfortunately one of its largest cons is the potential loss of jobs it will cause. There are several large supermarket packaging system corporations in California that may suffer from the reduction in single-use plastic bag sales.

“Sometimes with these kinds of steps, there is friction [and] you have to make a tradeoff,” Wolk said.

He agrees that while this isn’t ideal, conserving the environment is critical. In addition to this, he believes that even though the loss of jobs is unfortunate, the values that the Bag Ban is working for trumps the jobs aspect.

The environment seems to hold priority over the loss of several businesses who, as Murray pointed out, are actually hiring. Rather than losing business, most of these plastic manufacturers have begun working on recycled materials and reusable bags, making new jobs rather than removing them.

Kowalski sees SB 270 as a small first step, perhaps the first of many that will open up a dialogue and educate California’s residents on cleaning up our state.