California May Be First State to Ban Plastic Bags

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California could be the first state to officially ban single-use plastic bags. If passed, the law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

California is one step closer to a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

Last Friday, the Assembly Appropriations Committee passed AB 1998 and will be voted upon this Friday by the full Assembly.

If passed, the law would go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. Gov. Schwarzenegger has shown support for the move.

San Francisco made history when it became the first city to officially ban plastic shopping bags in 2007, making it a pioneer of the outlawing of common to-go plastic products.

Other cities in the Bay Area, including Oakland and Palo Alto, shortly followed suit.

However, if passed, AB 1998 would be the first statewide ban in history. Supporters say the bill would support the state’s efforts in reducing its waste.

“This legislation starts breaking our addiction to single-use plastic packaging, which has gotten completely out of control,” Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, told the Los Angeles Times.

However, the American Chemistry Council opposes the bill, citing economic reasons. The organization says the move would cost consumers as much as $1 billion in new charges on grocery bags and could lead to job losses across the state.

“The last thing Californians need is something that acts just like a $1 billion tax added to their grocery bills – but that’s what this legislation does,” said Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council in Sacramento, an organization that represents plastic bag makers.

“Here we are cutting back on schools, police and health care, so it’s hard to imagine California creating a new million-dollar bureaucracy to monitor how people take home their groceries.”

A heated topic plastic bans may be, both sides agree that recycling and consumer education is the best way to handle plastics in the waste stream.

Due to their light weight, most curbside programs do not accept plastic bags. However, most grocery stores throughout the U.S. now offer plastic bag recycling.

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, each year, Californians use 19 billion plastic bags, only 5 percent of which are recycled. The average California resident uses 600 plastic bags per year.

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