California Legislature to consider statewide plastic bag ban

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Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff

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California may soon be showing the plastic bag its way out.

Following the footsteps of nearly 100 cities and counties — including Alameda County — that in recent years have implemented local bans on single-use plastic bags, California legislators announced in a press conference last week that they will consider a bill prohibiting the bags statewide.

Senate Bill 270 will require all grocery stores, liquor stores and pharmacies to stop providing plastic bags starting July 2015, according to a press release issued by State Senator Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, who spearheaded the bill. Instead, retailers may provide customers with reusable or recycled-content paper bags. The bill will not preempt local bans already in place, Padilla said.

“This bill strikes the right balance,” Padilla said. “It will not only protect the environment; it will also protect jobs as California transitions to reusable bags.” According to him, the bill is “a huge step forward.”

SB 270 can be seen as a large-scale version of prohibitions already in place in Alameda County. Last January, Berkeley and other participating cities helped implement a countywide ban of bags from 1,450 retailers carrying specific food items — including milk, bread, soda and snack foods — according to Jeff Becerra, communications manager for the Alameda County Waste Management Authority, colloquially known as StopWaste.org.

In Berkeley, about 125 retailers were affected, according to an ordinance presented by city recycling program manager Andy Schneider. The ban did not apply to retailers not selling packaged foods nor to restaurants, coffee shops or bakeries.

“For years, Berkeley wanted to do a ban,” said Berkeley City Councilmember Jesse Arreguin. While he acknowledged the prohibitions take some getting used to for customers and business owners, Arreguin noted that the public has received the ban very well.

“Berkeley has always been at the forefront of environmental protection,” Arreguin said, adding that before the ordinance, more than 764 million plastic bags were distributed by county retailers. “There’s been a dramatic decrease here.”

While the impacts of the ordinance are still being measured, Berkeley has demonstrated a significant improvement in its environmental impact since 2000, according to data provided by the city’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development.

Between 2000 and 2011, the city has reduced its solid waste by 43 percent and its carbon dioxide emissions from waste by 54 percent. Berkeley’s per capita waste disposal rate — how much waste each resident throws away — remains well below the goals set for it by the state.

Despite these bans, there are still 14 billion plastic bags being distributed by retailers across the state, with only 5 percent ultimately being recycled, according to Padilla’s press release.

SB 270 is currently pending in committee in the state Assembly.

Contact Savannah Luschei at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @savluschei.

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