On September 30 of this year, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 270, banning grocery and convenience stores from selling single-use plastic bags, but allowing the sale of more environmentally inoffensive, reusable bags made by certified third party manufacturers. These bags, which have to meet standards for labeling, durability, material makeup, and heavy metal content, can be sold for no less than $0.10 each.
Even though about six out of every ten California voters supports the bill, according to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, there are still those who oppose its passing. This opposition naturally comes most strongly from plastic bag manufacturers who claim the new law is just a way for grocers and union bosses to stuff their pockets. They also raise the issue that the enactment of the new law will cost plastic workers their jobs.
“SB 270 was never a bill about the environment. It was a back room deal between the grocers and union bosses to scam California consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees without providing any public benefit. We are pleased to have reached this important milestone in the effort to repeal a terrible piece of job-killing legislation,” said the head of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, Lee Califf in a statement.
Soon after the announcement was made that Governor Brown had signed the bill, the American Progressive Bag Alliance fervently began collecting signatures in an effort to overturn the state’s decision – so far, over they accumulated 800,000. In order for their referendum to be on the November 2016 ballot, the Alliance had a 90 day window to gather 504,760 signatures by January 1, 2015. That number has been far surpassed.
And it’s not just California bag makers who are against the bill. Only $50,000 of the $1.2 million put into the campaign is from plastic bag manufacturers in California. Most of the funding comes from companies headquartered outside of California. As California has become the first state to sign a statewide ban, manufacturers are also fearful that other states will follow suit.
The bag ban, planned to go into effect on July 1, 2015 is now on hold until November 2016 when voters will, again, cast their votes for or against the bag ban. If a referendum has gathered the necessary number of signatures in the allotted amount of time, the law that referendum seeks to invalidate cannot be enacted until voters have their say again.
Even if the referendum fails, this newfound time before the law goes into effect gives plastic bag manufacturers the opportunity to sell an estimated $145 million worth of bags according to calculations made by the pro-ban group, Californians Against Waste. “We’re not doing this so we can sell bags for another 16 months,” said Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Plastic Bag Alliance. “When consumers understand that this is a cash grab by the grocers, they oppose this horrible legislation.”, he said, citing internal Alliance polling, showing that voters opinions shift after they are told that grocers will make millions from paper bag sales.
Regardless of the outcome of this legislative slugfest, the call for bans on single use plastic bags will continue. Environmentalists are continuing to push for bans at the local level, adding to the over 100 California municipalities with bans on plastic bag sales. According to Molly Peterson, a correspondent with Southern California Public Radio, pro-ban environmental groups will continue to strive to add to the “130 municipalities, counties, and local entities that have enacted some sort of a ban.” The battle over plastic bag sales will seemingly be over no time soon.