Bill AB 1998 Up For Vote Today In California

Following months of lobbying and legislative debate, California’s Senate will vote today to determine if the Golden State will become the first in the nation to ban plastic bags at grocery, drug and certain convenience stores with bill AB 1998. The ban, which passed the Assembly in June, already has the support of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has said he would sign the bill into law. “We are taught to reduce, reuse, recycle in that order because we can’t recycle our way to a better world,” said Assemblywoman Julie Brownley, who authored the legislation. “This bill gets to the root of our litter problem by reducing our use of disposable bags.”
After a flurry of changes in legislative committees last week, the latest bill encourages retailers to provide reusable bags, but still allows them to offer recycled paper bags. Also, retailers would now only be permitted to charge customers an exact fee for a paper bag, not allowing for a previously proposed extra fee of five cents. Finally, stores would also be required to provide bags to customers who can’t afford them.
According to Brown, the bill would save Californians substantial money, helping to offset the roughly $25 million a year spent on cleaning up bag litter. Yet opponents of the bill, including the American Chemistry Council (ACC), argue the bill would be a quasi-tax on residents who are already suffering through a down economy in California. “This bill is bad for the economy and bad for the environment,” states the ACC website. “It will eliminate several hundred California manufacturing jobs and dismantle existing plastic bag recycling programs.”
If the Senate were to pass the ban today, the new bill would be returned to the California Assembly for final approval. Schwarzenegger would then likely sign the bill by September 30, meaning the plastic bag ban would go into effect at supermarkets and large pharmacies beginning in 2012. Smaller grocers, convenience and liquor stores would have to comply by 2013.
Several major political players were at a Downtown Los Angeles Vons on Sunday morning to promote AB 1998, the state proposal to ban single-use plastic bags and most paper bags from grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores. The bill already has Assembly approval and it is up for a Senate vote on Monday. Tuesday is the deadline to pass the measure in the Legislature before it is forwarded to the governor for his signature.
AB 1998 is supported by environmental groups, the California Grocers Association and unions. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) leads the opposition.
Assemblymember Julia Brownley, whose district includes Malibu, authored the bill. She spoke at the press conference. Other speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Heal the Bay President Mark Gold.
“This is the strongest legislation yet to finally change consumer behavior and to ensure we in California will rid ourselves of a nasty plastic bag habit,” Brownley said.
AB 1998 proponents say plastic bags create an environmental threat, especially on the beaches. A statement on the ACC's Web site says improving recycling programs is a better solution.
“This bill is bad for the economy and bad for the environment,” the ACC states. “It will eliminate several hundred California manufacturing jobs and dismantle existing plastic bag recycling programs.”
Brownley called this a “David and Goliath fight.” She said the ACC is working hard to defeat the bill because it knows this is a battle ground.
“They know if California goes, so will our neighboring coastal states … and then the country.”
Malibu banned single-use plastic bags two years ago. Yaroslavsky and Villaraigosa said Los Angeles County and City would move toward bans if AB 1998 does not pass. Officials from other cities, including Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach, have made the same declaration.

Manuel Martinez

Project GreenBag, 2200 Market St, San Francisco, CA, 94114, United States