Will Californians Vote to Ban Plastic Bags?

Next month, as Americans cast their votes in the presidential election, Californians will have another big decision to make. On the 2016 general election ballot will be a referendum to Senate Bill 270, which Governor Jerry Brown signed two years ago to ban single-use plastic bags across the state.

As soon as Brown signed the bill, plastic companies launched a campaign to overturn the law. The referendum stopped the law from taking effect, pushing off the decision until voters have a say in November.

The plastic bag industry, now calling itself the American Progressive Bag Alliance, has raised over $6 million to fight the statewide ban.

“Plastic retail bags have been unfairly targeted for regulation and legislation without really considering the actual data or science around what people chose to take home their groceries from the store,” said Jon Berrier, a spokesperson for the Alliance.

The group claims that the ban on plastic bags will take away thousands of jobs in the state of California and cost consumers hundreds of dollars.

On the other hand, proponents of the bill argue that the plastic bag industry is opposing the ban not for the benefit of the state, but for their own self-interest.

“They are desperately trying to protect the profits they make from selling plastic bags, and they are very concerned about the 10 billion bags that are sold in California,” said Mark Murray, the executive director of Californians Against Waste.

A coalition of environmental groups and grocers are leading the campaign to uphold the bill.

“Plastic bags kill marine life, they jam recycling equipment and they cause litter,” said Steve Maviglio, a spokesperson for the ‘Yes on 67’ campaign. “It’s time for the entire state to have the same law on the books.”

Maviglio is referring to the fact that more than 150 towns and counties in California already have plastic bag ordinances. In fact, San Francisco has upheld a ban on plastic shopping bags for almost a decade. Many Californians have already adjusted to life without plastic bags, including residents of San Jose. Their use of reusable bags at grocery stores shot up from 3.6% of all bags before the ban to 62.4% today.

Under Senate Bill 270, grocery and retail stores will charge customers 10 cents to buy a recycled paper bag or reusable grocery bag in which to take home their purchases. The law will require the stores to use this money to cover the costs of providing these bags.

“I don’t need them,” said a shopper in Alameda, referring to plastic grocery bags. “I have plenty of cloth bags and I’m glad (supermarkets) aren’t using them because I hate seeing the trash.”

While 90% of Americans report that they reuse plastic bags, those in favor of the ban would argue that reusing paper or cloth bags would be just as effective and better for the environment.

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