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Campaign begins to preserve ban on plastic grocery bags

Campaign begins to preserve ban on plastic grocery bags
Shoppers transfer groceries from a supermarket cart into their car in Monterey Park, California in September. (FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP/Getty Images)

A group of politicians, environmentalists and businesses announced Thursday it is launching a campaign to fight efforts to repeal a ban on single-use plastic bags from stores that is scheduled to take effect July 1.

The new group is trying to counter plastic bag manufacturers, operating as the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is trying to collect more than 504,000 signatures for a referendum that, if it qualifies, would delay the bag ban until a statewide vote in November 2016.

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That effort to repeal the nation's first statewide bag ban will be fought by a new coalition that includes Sierra Club California, Surfrider Foundation, the California Grocers Assn., Grocery Outlet Inc., Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Assemblyman-elect Kevin McCarty.

"Unfortunately our state's electoral system is being hijacked by a corporate special interest: the dying plastic bag industry, companies that apparently can't read the writing on the wall about their product," said Mark Murray, a spokesman for Californians Against Waste.

A group of mostly out-of-state bag manufacturers has committed nearly $2 million so far to the petition drive to qualify the referendum. Murray estimated his side will need about $500,000 during the next six months to educate the public about why they should not sign the petition, and about $10 million for a campaign on the referendum if it qualifies.

The head of the bag alliance said the new coalition supporting the bag ban has hidden motives based on the new law allowing stores to charge customers ten cents for paper or resusable plastic bags.

"It's very unsurprising the California Grocers Assn. is looking to spend more money to protect SB 270; it's a scam that will take billions of dollars from California taxpayers to line the pockets of grocers," said Mark Daniels, alliance chairman, in a statement. "We look forward to educating California voters on the facts behind this bill and allowing them a chance to vote on it in 2016."

Murray cited a recent statewide Los Angeles Times poll that showed about 60% of Californians support the statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and that the support is greater by residents who live in the 40% of California where cities and counties have adopted local bag bans. For that reason, the new coalition will work to convince more cities and counties to adopt similar bans in the coming months.

"Nothing we use for 5 minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years," said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California, during a conference call with reporters announcing the pro-ban campaign.

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