Environment

In Huge Win for Oceans and Wildlife, California Phases Out Plastic Bags

Voters are “making the Golden State a bold leader in protecting the environment,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Environmental problem: plastic bags on ocean floor threat to turtles
Photo Credit: Rich Carey/Shutterstock

Two weeks after Californians voted to enact a state law to ban plastic shopping bags--the first state in the nation to do so--stores across the state are proceeding with implementation.

“I thank California voters for supporting Proposition 67 and once again making the Golden State a bold leader in protecting the environment. California is moving past the era of throw-away plastic bags,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the author of Senate Bill 270, the state law banning plastic bags. “When I took on the problem of plastic bag pollution three years ago, California retailers were distributing more than 19 billion single-use plastic shopping bags every year. In 2017, that number will be zero.”

Proposition 67, the referendum on the state law (Senate Bill 270) passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2014, is passing 53-47 percent. The law had been challenged by the out-of-state plastic bag industry, which spent more than $6 million to repeal it. 

“California voters have taken a stand against a deceptive, multi-million dollar campaign by out-of-state plastic bag makers,” said Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste, co-chair of the campaign. “This is a significant environmental victory that will mean an immediate elimination of the 25 million plastic bags that are polluted in California every day, threatening wildlife.”

"This is a victory for our oceans and marine life, and for communities all over California dealing with the blight of plastic pollution in their neighborhoods," said Linda Escalante, Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The phase out of these plastic bags is an important step in reducing a significant and damaging source of plastic pollution that is costing California communities more than $428 million in cleanup costs.”

Most stores in the state have moved quickly to phase out single-use plastic bags, and accelerate promotion of reusable bags. In just two weeks, an estimated 250 million single use plastic bags have already been eliminated.

The law, which was originally designed to take effect on July 1, 2015 for grocery stores and July 1, 2016 for convenience and liquor stores, requires stores to make available reusable bags certified to last at least 125 times, or recycled paper bags made with at least 40 percent post-consumer content.

More than 150 California communities already have local plastic bags in place. The passage of Prop 67 extends the ban to the remainder of the state.

More than 40 percent of California communities are already living without plastic shopping bags through local ordinance.

“Consumers have demonstrated they love this policy,” said Murray. “In the 12 California Counties that have already banned plastic bags, support was most overwhelming, with better than 66% of voters saying yes to Prop 67, and an end to polluting plastic shopping bags.”

The Yes vote on Prop 67 was backed by a diverse coalition of more than 500 organizations, ranging from environmental groups to business organizations and dozens of cities and counties. They included: Environment California, Heal the Bay, the NAACP, Save the Bay, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, the California League of Cities, Azul, and the California Labor Federation. The Yes campaign also received the support of more than 40 newspapers.

More than 70 percent of the Yes on 67 campaign’s funding came from environmental contributors. More than 4,000 individual contributors donated to the campaign. The plastic bag industry had just four contributors.

Mark Murray is the executive director of Californians Against Waste. Over the past 20 years, Mark has helped draft many of California's solid waste and recycling laws. Mark has served on numerous local, state and national environmental advisory boards and commissions.

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