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California Bans Plastic Bags

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday that makes California the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags.

By Melody Gutierrez

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday that makes California the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags.

Many cities and counties in the state already have plastic bag bans in place, including San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles County. With Brown signing SB270 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, grocery stores and pharmacies statewide will phase out the use of plastic bags by July 2015. A year later, convenience stories and liquor stores can no longer distribute plastic bags.

"This bill is a step in the right direction -- it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself," Brown said in a statement Tuesday. "We're the first to ban these bags, and we won't be the last."

SB270 provides $2 million in competitive loans to help plastic bag manufacturers convert their operations to produce reusable bags. Grocers will be required to charge at least 10 cents for each recycled paper bag or reusable bag provided to a customer.

The bill was one of the most watched proposals in the Legislature this year, with grocers, plastic bag manufacturers and unions fiercely lobbying lawmakers about the potential loss of jobs and about how the 10 cents charge for recycled bags can be used.

Although Brown indicated earlier this month that he intended to sign the bill, he waited until the final day in which he can take action on a bill. A torrent of additional bill signings and vetoes are expected later in the day.

Opponents of the bill said the statewide plastic bag ban is government overreach, while others argued that the per bag fee grocers will charge will amount to a windfall that essentially allows customers to be charged twice since the cost of carry out bags are already factored into store prices.

"We're basically implementing a tax, a 10 cent charge per bag on our constituents," said Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, before Brown signed the bill. "It's actually a profit center for grocers, because the cost of the bag is 2 to 3 cents, but the charge is going to be 10 cents. I find that quite frankly outrageous."

Padilla said lawmakers have discussed the merits of a statewide plastic bag ban for years, while local governments moved forward with their own.

"A throw-away society is not sustainable," Padilla said in a statement. "This new law will greatly reduce the flow of billions of single-use plastic bags that litter our communities and harm our environment each year. Moving from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags is common sense."

Each year, California spends $25 million to dispose of 14 billion plastic bags used annually, according to a legislative analysis of the bill. Plastic bags make up 2 percent of the overall waste in California, but they are the predominate form of marine debris. The ultimate destination for much of the plastic waste from California's coast is the North Pacific Central Gyre, where researchers say more than 300,000 plastic particles are found per square mile.

We've seen locally that plastic bag bans lead to cleaner water and healthier wildlife, keeping trash off our beaches and out of our creeks," said Save the Bay executive director David Lewis in a statement. "The success of bag bans in our local communities has empowered state legislators to make the right decision for the health of California's waterways."

(c)2014 the San Francisco Chronicle

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