Big Money Suspends California Plastic Bag Ban

Plastic bags are terrible for the environment: they choke wildlife, they don’t break down in landfills (or in oceans), they add to our demand for oil, and they aren’t easy to recycle, which is the biggest reason why 90 percent of plastic bags in the U.S. aren’t re-purposed.

In spite of this, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year, 380 billion of those in the U.S., and governments have been slow-moving to do anything about them.

So it made sense when last year it looked like California was set to be the first state to ban single-use plastic bags. Lawmakers sent Governor Jerry Brown a bill, SB270, which prohibited said single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and large pharmacies as of 2015 and at convenience stores as of 2016, all in an effort to reduce litter on our streets and beaches.

The bill allowed grocers to charge 10 cents each for paper and reusable bags. It also included $2 million in loans to help manufacturers shift to the new model.

In fact, about 100 jurisdictions in California have already adopted similar bans. My own county, San Mateo County, requires residents to pay 25 cents for a paper bag. However, opponents of a statewide ban have already succeeded in stopping the measure from going into effect by securing a spot on the 2016 ballot.

Who knew it was possible to reverse a ban that Governor Brown had previously signed into law?

Stopping The Plastic Bag Ban

Approved by California Governor Jerry Brown last September, the first stage of the ban was originally slated to go into effect on July 1. However, on February 24 state election officials confirmed that the national advocacy group American Progressive Bag Alliance had collected the necessary half million signatures to qualify for a November 2016 referendum on the measure. Now, the referendum’s qualification suspends the law until voters weigh in, a year and a half away.

But that’s not all.

A spokesman for the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which spent more than $3 million on the effort to qualify the referendum, said the group’s goals go beyond just keeping the law off the books for 21 more months. Opponents intend to mount an active campaign to scrap the law entirely, he said.

Great. This is just what happened last year with Proposition 37, which would have required retailers and food companies to label products made with genetically modified ingredients.

Had Prop 37 been approved, foods containing GMOs would have been mandated to make the fact clear on the product’s label. The law would have meant most processed foods would need to include notes on their labels that the products were “partially produced with genetic engineering” or “may be partially produced with genetic engineering.” In addition, the words “genetically engineered” would have been required on relevant product packaging.

Huge amounts of money, mostly from outside of California, were poured into campaigns weighing heavily in favor of Prop 37′s opponents.

The Missouri-based Monsanto Company, in particular, dumped millions of dollars into a campaign that opposed the ballot measure, a maneuver that many people believed was singlehandedly responsible for swinging the vote.

A total of $44 million was raised for “No on Prop 37,” while proponents were only able to raise $7.3 million.

Big Money And Plastic Bags

So now Big Money is going after plastic bags.

However, conservationists believe that Californians will uphold the ban on plastic bags. Such bags litter streets and oceans, often killing the marine animals that ingest them, and one impact report states plastic bags could take as long as 1,000 years to biodegrade.

And the good news is that cities and counties across California, and across the nation, already prohibit or charge for the bags, and that number is expected to grow over the coming months. A spokesman for the mayor of Sacramento, California’s state capital, said this week that there will be a renewed push to make sure Sacramento moves forward with its own plastic bag prohibition.

Plastic bags are ugly, dangerous, and unnecessary. We must keep fighting to ban their use.

Photo Credit: thinkstock


Louise P
Louise P2 years ago

What a joke!!! Our so-called plastic bag ban here in Los Angeles has only succeeded in changing one type of plastic for another, which defeats the whole purpose!!
What happened to paper??
And I never saw any mention of the plastic bags in the produce dept., either. They had little paper bags there when I was a kid...

Mark Donners
Mark Donner3 years ago

Just designate these corporations as terrorists, and deal with them for what they are.. terrorist groups.

Marta S.
Marta S3 years ago

I guess we just have to lead by example and keep changing people's hearts by explaining why we don't use plastic bags.
As far as garbage - the first step is to avoid buying products in non-recyclable/ compostable or reusable containers and use vegetable-based plastic bags.
Second, compost yard waste or encourage your town or city to start a yard waste/composting pick up program.
Third, buy natural materials wood or ceramic instead of plastic. Natural fibers instead of synthetics.
Fourth, explore buying as much as possible from second-hand stores, flea markets, yard sales, craigslist or freecycle.

Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman3 years ago

Phil P. wrote,

" ... If we get millions of signatures on a petition could we immediately suspend the Citizens United/Corporations are People bullshit for the 2016 elections and get it on the 2016 ballot for the 2016 elections? ..."

Unfortunately we can't do that because Citizens United is a Supreme Court decision about the Constitution, and only a constitutional amendment can undo it.

My guess is that the best we can do in the short term is legislation that requires all political contributions and contributors to be identified.

Jane R.
Jane R4 years ago

Great to ban plastic grocery bags but what do we do about all the other plastic bags, such as trash bags, lawn and leaf bags, freezer bags, trash compactor bags and clothing store plastic bags? I don't see a solution in the near future.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

A perfect example of corporate money running the states. It is not just in Cal it is national as shown by their GMO example. If the state can't ban it in its entirety I wonder if individual cities can ban the bags on their own for the state.

feather w.
Feather W4 years ago

In europe we have bags made from veg products like corn....they are fully biodegradable. These replace the plastic bags. This technology is around, we just need to adopt it in USA.

Kelly M.
Kelly R4 years ago

I work in a grocery store and it is shocking how many plastic bags are used in a day, even with people bringing their reusable bags, it's just not enough.

Kamia C.
Kamia T4 years ago

Some of California's laws are ridiculous. Qualifying for a future event should NOT have stopped anything taking place now. And living without plastic bags for some short period would have given consumers a good taste for whether or not it was truly workable. I'm becoming a plastic hater in almost every form, sorry to say.