Editorial: Let California’s plastic bag ban stand

(Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images )

Some people just don’t know when to stop fighting. Immediately after Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation’s first statewide ban on disposable plastic bags, the plastics industry vowed to overturn it. Since then, out-of-state bag makers have contributed $2.5 million to help collect 504,000 signatures by the end of the year to put a referendum on the November 2016 ballot reversing the ban, despite polls showing that it has widespread support.

Under the landmark environmental law, grocery stores and pharmacies are supposed to phase out single-use plastic bags by July 1; convenience and liquor stores have an extra year to comply. But if the referendum qualifies for the ballot, the law is put on hold until after the 2016 election. That means another year and a half of plastic bags littering parks, rivers and beaches, and more plastic debris polluting the ocean and killing marine life. There’s no need for delay — Californians have already debated the issue ad nauseam and decided to ban the bag. Voters should just say no when asked to sign the petition for the referendum.

Of course, the plastics industry is going to pour money into the referendum, and its advocacy group, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, will throw up every imaginable argument for voters to sign on. Bag manufacturers profit if the ban is delayed. But don’t buy the industry spin! This law was not a backroom deal, as opponents claim, but the result of years of legislative hearings and more than a dozen failed attempts to restrict the use of the bags statewide (thanks to industry lobbying). It’s not a job killer — the legislation included $2 million to help local manufacturers begin to make thicker, multiuse plastic bags. And it’s not an onerous tax on consumers; shoppers can avoid the 10-cent fee on paper or reusable plastic bags simply by bringing their own.

A bag ban is hardly revolutionary anymore. California has more than 125 local ordinances barring or charging for disposable bags — and more will be passed if the state law is delayed. The city of Los Angeles has eliminated single-use plastic bags, and there has been little blowback. In a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, 60% of respondents supported the new law.


California may be the leader, but the tide is turning against plastic bags elsewhere too; cities or legislatures in 25 states have enacted or discussed plastic bag bans and fees. Why? Because more and more jurisdictions have realized that giving up disposable plastic bags is a small sacrifice that delivers real environmental benefits. If the plastics industry was really as progressive as the name of its alliance suggests, manufacturers would be investing their money in more sustainable products. But instead they keep fighting the same fight. Californians need to send a strong message: The bag ban should stand.

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