California Bombs on Plastic Bag Ban

pile of plastic bags photo

Photo by Taberandrew via Flickr Creative Commons

Despite San Francisco leading the way on banning plastic bags back in 2007, California senators rejected a proposed plan to ban plastic bags statewide. The measure to remove carryout plastic bags from supermarkets, drug stores and convenience shops would have taken effect by July 2012 in larger stores, and 2013 in smaller stores, and it would have made California the first state to institute a ban like this. It was expected to sail through the Senate and pass with flying colors, and Governor Schwarzenegger already said he fully supported the measure. But it failed. Why? Because it would be too "costly" for consumers. It seems the concept of true cost is once again trumped by immediate financial concerns. The Sacramento Bee reports that the measure failed with a vote of 14 ayes, 20 nays.

Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, said the refuse from 19 billion plastic bags a year make the bill a concept whose "time has come."

But Sen. Lois Wolk, a Davis Democrat with a strong environmental voting record, told The Bee she would not support the measure on the floor.

"I prefer that we begin with incentives, and if that doesn't work, move to mandates," she said. "This is a windfall for the retailers."

It came down to the cost to consumers, with Wolk quoting that recycled grocery bags cost 6 to 10 cents each, which would ultimately be paid for by consumers. This sounds like a relatively weak argument. More likely, another element factored in to the voting:

Chemical-company interests lobbied members intensively to block the bill, doling out donations last month to politicians and mounting a TV, radio and newspaper ad campaign. Grocery store lobbyists, meanwhile, argued strongly for the measure.

What seems to have been looked over is true cost. For example, how much will tax payers be required to spend to clean massive numbers of plastic bags off of California's coastlines? How much will be lost in the future as marine wildlife perishes from plastic consumption? A short term decision about the cost of a few pennies per bag at the counter will likely have far larger costs in the future.

Meanwhile, American Samoa passed a plastic bag ban, making it illegal for stores to provide plastic bags to customers starting February 23, 2011.

"I believe this bill ... is a step in the right direction toward protecting the natural beauty of our islands and our native land and sea creatures," Gov. Togiola Tulafono said in a letter to the territorial Legislature.

Too bad California legislators don't think the same thing.

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