Banning the plastic bag shouldn't be this hard

What will it take to get California's Legislature to ban single-use plastic bags statewide?

Another year, another fierce lobbying campaign to block a much-needed ban on single-use plastic bags. The Assembly on Monday bowed to industry pressure and narrowly rejected the latest bill to phase out disposable plastic shopping bags. Yet there is still hope for this important piece of environmental legislation. The bill was just three votes shy of passage — so close after more than a dozen unsuccessful attempts to curtail the bags statewide. State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) says he intends to bring his bill back for one more vote before the legislative session ends this week, and this time, we hope lawmakers finally ban the bag.

Senate Bill 270 would prohibit large grocery stores from providing single-use plastic bags starting in July 2015. The law would take effect in liquor stores and small markets in July 2016. The goal is to encourage BYOB — bring your own bag — but stores could sell paper or reusable plastic bags for 10 cents each as a convenience. The money collected would have to be used to cover the cost of the bags and to help shoppers switch to reusable bags.

The opponents of the bill — mainly, bag makers — have said it would be a job killer, even though the legislation includes $2 million to help manufacturers transition to making thicker, reusable plastic bags. Other critics say the bill would hurt the poor and make groceries less affordable. But the bill would exempt shoppers who use food stamps, and consumers can avoid the 10-cent fees by simply carrying their own reusable bags, which are often given out as swag at community and commercial events. A third of Californians, including shoppers in the city of Los Angeles, live in communities that have eliminated single-use plastic bags, and there has been little blowback to the bans.

Legislators need to look past the bag industry horror stories about job losses and consumer backlash. Instead, they should focus on the damage caused when the disposable bags get stuck in trees, clog storm drains, clutter beaches and eventually end up in giant patches of floating plastic debris in the ocean. Retailers give out about 13 billion single-use plastic bags in California each year, but advocates of a statewide ban say only 3% of those are recycled. Surely the environmental benefits of a ban outweigh the minor inconvenience and small cost shoppers might incur before they get into the habit of carrying reusable bags.

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