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on plastic single-use bags. Since
the implementation of this law
in 2007, there has not been a
marked increase in the plastic-
bag recycling rate.
Several industry-backed bills
over the past few years have also
focused on voluntary approaches
and recycling -- policies shown
to be insufficient for addressing
the pollution problem created
by single-use bags.
Several bills in recent years
have proposed placing a charge
on single-use plastic, paper, and
compostable bags with the ma-
jority of funds collected going
back to local governments for
single-use bag pollution abate-
ment (AB 2869 [Levine]; AB 68
[Brownley]; AB 87 [Davis]).
Not only have fee policies
worked well to reduce bag us-
age in countries such as Ireland,
but funds generated can also
help budget-strapped communi-
ties. However, in part due to the
economic downturn in recent
years, the California legislature
has not been willing to pass a
bag bill that places a charge on
the consumer.
Given the legislature's nega-
tive record on bag legislation
charging consumers, this legisla-
tive session has marked a shift in
proposed single-use bag policy.
AB 1998 (Brownley) proposed
a ban on single-use plastic and
compostable bags by January
1, 2012, and an at-cost charge
on high-recycled content pa-
per bags. Many environmental
groups found this policy prefer-
able to fees because a straight
ban on plastic would result in
fewer bags in the environment.
AB 1998 passed out of the
state Assembly with a vote of 42-
27. Notwithstanding a unique
and broad coalition of support-
ers including the California Gro-
cers Association, United Food
and Commercial Workers Union,
local governments, environmen-
tal groups and the Governor,
this bill failed to pass the state
Senate. The American Chemis-
try Council poured millions into
an anti- AB 1998 advertisement
campaign, high-powered lobby-
ists and senate donations. This
effort was likely a big contribu-
tor to the bill's demise.
As discussed above, there is
much momentum on the issue of
single-use bags at the state and
local levels. Ideally, California
will have a statewide policy that
bans plastic and compostable
single-use bags, and bans or
places a charge on paper bags at
all large supermarkets, pharma-
cies, and convenience stores in
the near future.
This would lead to the great-
est reduction in single-use bag
pollution and would drive con-
sumers toward reusable bags,
the environmentally-preferable
alternative. As a result of such
a policy, municipalities would
have fewer cleanup costs, and
stores would not need to imbed
the price of "free" bags in the
cost of consumer products.
Despite slow progress at the
state level, it is essential for pol-
icy to move forward at the local
level -- not only to create posi-
tive environmental change but
also to drive state action in the
future. Many local governments
were waiting to hear the results
of AB 1998 before moving for-
ward with their own policies.
In the short time since the
end of the legislative session,
local governments are already
starting to take action on plastic
bags. Hopefully the momentum
at the local level in the coming
months and the possible real-
ity of a "patchwork" of plastic
bag policies throughout the state
will send a strong message to the
legislature that a statewide ap-
proach is needed.
Kirsten James is the Water Quality
Director at heal the bay, a Santa
Monica-based environmental group.
For references, please see complete
article on our website at www.aware