ALAMEDA, Calif. — California voters are considering a November referendum that would uphold or overturn a statewide ban on single-use plastic carryout bags, and another ballot initiative that would require fees collected from retail customers for alternative bags be put in an environmental fund.
In 2007, San Francisco banned plastic shopping bags, setting off a movement that’s led nearly half the state and its biggest cities to do the same. Then two years ago, the Legislature passed SB270, a statewide ban.
But that ban is on hold following a well-funded push by bag makers to repeal the legislation.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance is leading the “No” campaign to repeal SB270.
A coalition of environmental groups, grocers, and others, is leading the campaign to uphold the statewide ban.
“Plastic bags kill marine life, they jam recycling equipment and they cause litter,” said Steve Maviglio, spokesman for the Yes on 67 campaign. “It’s time for the entire state to have the same law on the books.”
Some shoppers agree.
“I don’t need them,” said Lisa Deering, a shopper in Alameda. “I have plenty of cloth bags and I’m glad (supermarkets) aren’t using them because I hate seeing the trash.”
Shopper Jack Mingo, also of Alameda, agreed.
“It’s been really great not seeing the plastic bags blowing down the street and seeing them coming out of the stores,” he said. “It’s a really stupid use of resources.”
But the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is spending millions to fight the ban, doesn’t see it that way.
“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 alliance spokesman Jon Berrier. He points to 2013 figures from the Environmental Protection Agency that show plastic retail bags represent less than half a percent of the waste stream.
“Science has really left the building when it comes to making policy around this issue,” Berrier said.
The group also claims the ban will effectively kill thousands of jobs in California and cost consumers hundreds of dollars annually in bag fees. If the ban is ratified, stores would generally have to charge customers at least 10 cents apiece for alternative carryout bags.
If the statewide ban is overturned, stores could provide free single-use plastic bags unless they are prohibited by local laws, which are already in effect in 151 California cities and counties.
The second measure, Proposition 65, proposes to direct any proceeds from the dime-per-bag sales to an environmental fund.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance worked to qualify Proposition 65 for the ballot, something opponents, including many environmental groups, say was done to confuse voters.
“We’d like nothing more than for money from the sale of bags to go to benefit the environment but we don’t feel that the folks who put Prop. 65 on the ballot are being sincere, said Matt Davis, spokesman for the environmental group Clean Water Action.
The Surfrider Foundation is also opposing Proposition 65.
“It was put on the ballot as a cynical ploy to either confuse voters or frustrate the grocers, or both,” said legal director Angela Howe. “It is unclear what the ‘environmental fund’ set up through Proposition 65 would actually do or how it would be structured within the current conservation agencies in the state.”
If the “No” vote prevails on Proposition 67 and Proposition 65 is approved, it is unclear what if any money would go into the fund because the language of the latter measure is unclear.