With the stroke of a pen, California Governor Jerry Brown today signed legislation that will ban single-use plastic bags from pharmacies, grocery, convenience, and liquor stores. The landmark legislation, SB-270, had been approved weeks earlier by the state legislature after much debate and needed only the Governor’s signature to become law. The bill makes California the only state in the nation to have a state-wide ban on such bags and complements existing ordinances across the state that have already been implemented by some local governments.
Beginning in July 2015, grocery stores and pharmacies will be prohibited from distributing single-use plastic bags to their customers. The ban will apply to convenience and liquor stores one year later. The bill will also provide up to $2 million in loans to businesses that transition from manufacturing single-use bags to reusable bags. The funds will be administered by CalRecycle.
The ban on single-use bags is seen by supporters as a way to reduce plastic waste and the harmful effects upon wildlife from improperly disposed bags. Birds, fish, and other animals have been known to eat plastic bags with fatal and near fatal results. Additionally, the ban will reduce litter and thus reduce costs for local governments that must clean it up.
The bill also requires that stores charge consumers for reusable bags at a rate no less than 10 cents per bag. This requirement was noticeably absent from the Governor’s press release. Some thought that the Governor might oppose signing the bill because of this requirement, which has been characterized as a new “tax” on Californians, particularly on low-income families. Governor Brown had previously promised not to raise taxes without a vote of approval by Californians.
Some Bakersfield and San Joaquin Valley residents have also been publicly opposed to SB-270, including Bakersfield Assemblywoman Shannon Grove. She likened the legislation to a war on plastic grocery bags. Nevertheless, the bill had significant statewide support from community and environmental groups, local governments, businesses, and labor organizations.
“This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” said Governor Brown. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”
Other state legislators were effusive in their praise of the bill and the Governor for approving it.
“I applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 270 into law. He continues to lead our state forward with a commitment to sustainability. A throw-away society is not sustainable. This new law will greatly reduce the flow of billions of single-use plastic bags that litter our communities and harm our environment each year. Moving from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags is common sense. Governor Brown’s signature reflects our commitment to protect the environment and reduce government costs,” said Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the bill’s author.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said, “The California coast is a national treasure and a calling card for the world, helping us attract visitors and business from around the globe. Removing the harmful blight of single-use plastic bags, especially along our coastline and waterways, helps ensure the kind of clean and healthy environment we need to have a stronger economy and a brighter future.”
“SB 270 is a win-win for the environment and for California workers. We are doing away with the scourge of single-use plastic bags and closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining – and growing – California jobs. As we further develop our green economy, SB 270 will be a model for balancing the health of the planet with the preservation of people’s livelihoods,” said Senate President pro Tem-elect Kevin de Leόn, a joint author of the bill.
The bill was seen by many in the environmental community as a landmark decision that will provide benefits not only to the environment but also to the economy.
“For nearly 10 million Californians, life without plastic grocery bags is already a reality. Bag bans reduce plastic pollution and waste, lower bag costs at grocery stores, and now we’re seeing job growth in California at facilities that produce better alternatives,” said Californians Against Waste executive director Mark Murray.
“California is the first state in the U.S. to ban the most ubiquitous consumer item on the planet, in an effort to drive consumers towards sustainable behavior change. Data from the over 127 local plastic bag bans has proven that bans are effective at reducing litter and changing consumer attitudes, and have refuted industry’s claims of apocalyptic impacts on jobs and poor communities. A state plastic bag ban saves taxpayers the huge amount of money spent on litter cleanup, and protects the environment,” said Clean Seas Coalition and Seventh Generation Advisors director Leslie Tamminen.
“SB 270 is a great victory for all of California. We’ve seen locally that plastic bag bans lead to cleaner water and healthier wildlife, keeping trash off our beaches and out of our creeks. The success of bag bans in our local communities has empowered state legislators to make the right decision for the health of California’s waterways. Governor Brown’s signature of this statewide bag ban is an important moment for our state, demonstrating that California is once again willing to take the lead on important environmental issues,” said Save the Bay executive director David Lewis.