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State May Follow Laguna Beach In Banning Plastic Bags

A state Assemblyman introduced a law to prohibit single-use plastic bags in California similar to Laguna Beach's existing ban.

California may follow Laguna Beach's lead in banning plastic bags.

A California lawmaker has introduced legislation to ban the bags statewide starting in 2015. In Laguna Beach, retailers have been banned from using them since early January.

State Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), recycled the once-failed effort to eliminate single-use plastic bags across California. Levine resurrected Assembly Bill 298, a failed 2011-12 proposal. That legislation cleared the Assembly floor in 2011 but faced opposition from plastic bag manufacturers and grocers and was never heard by the Senate, according to the Sacramento Bee.

"To continue the use of these bags would ignore the convincing body of global evidence proving that these bags are having a drastic effect on marine ecocultures," Levine said in a press release. "Additionally, there are several easily available and affordable alternatives to plastic bags. We need to ban these bags once and for all."

Despite its miles of affected coastline, Orange County has been slow to embrace efforts to ban plastic bags.

Last year Dana Point and Laguna Beach became the only cities countywide to ban plastic bags. In Laguna, grocery stores, drug stores, convenience stores and mini-marts, gas station markets, farmers markets and clothing stores are prohibited from dispensing single-use plastic bags. The retailers face steep fines if caught using plastic bags. The Dana Point ban will take effect in April.

San Clemente is set to consider a plastic bag ban this year. The cause has been championed by the Surfrider Foundation, which also successfully pushed for a 2011 ban on Styrofoam restaurant containers in San Clemente.

Other coastal cities such as Seal Beach have mulled over such bans without taking action. In other cities such as Long Beach, shoppers who use plastic bags must pay a 10-cent tax per bag. Statewide, about 50 cities and a handful of counties have enacted the bans already.

Bag manufacturers, however, remain staunchly opposed to eliminating plastic bags from grocery store checkout stands. Bag the Ban, a project of recycled content by high-density polyethylene bag manufacturer Hilex Poly, calls the bans "trendy" and legislation that “feels good to pass."

"Legislators should instead be spending time and money on legislation that has a positive impact for families and the economy," a Bag the Ban spokeswoman said.

Here are the fundamentals of Levine's proposal:

  1. Beginning on January 1, 2015, full-line grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales or retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of floor space would be prohibited from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.
  2. From January 1, 2015 to July 30, 2016, stores above could provide recycled paper bags to customers.
  3. Stores subject to this bill would be required to make reusable grocery bags available for sale.

He says it will help reduce litter and protect marine wildlife. Plastic bags account for about 10 percent of trash that washes up on beaches, according to Levine. Worldwide, it's believed people use about 500 billion plastic bags annually.

Opponents say that means the problem is litter, not plastic bags, according to CalWatchdog, a journalism venture covering the state capitol.

There also has been criticism of how dirty reusable bags get.

"And unfortunately, most shoppers are completely unaware that, without proper cleaning, reusable shopping bags can contain harmful bacteria that can cause food-borne illness," according to Bag the Ban.

The cost of reusable bags has come under fire as well. Although it seems every store, community group and company gives out free reusable bags, many customers purchase them when they checkout. Under Levine's bill, grocery stores will have to provide paper or reusable bags to low-income customers.

"Levine’s bill will impose another unnecessary tax on the consumer and once again penalize private industry," CalWatchdog opined.

In California, about 16 percent of the state's population is covered by a single-use plastic bag prohibition, according to Californians Against Waste. It hasn't been perfect, though. Complaints from consumers range from trouble remembering their reusable bags to no longer having plastic bags to clean up their dog's poop. About 90 percent of Americans reuse their plastic bags at least once, for everything from storage to waste disposal to packing material, according data from Bag the Ban.

Do you support a statewide ban on plastic bags at grocery stores? How has your experience been with the local ban?

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