California Inches Closer to Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags

mexy goldy

mexy goldy

California has long been the vanguard of environmental legislation and it is working on shoring up that position with new legislation which would ban all single-use plastic bags in the state. While well over 100 municipalities throughout the state and over 150 municipalities throughout the country already have some sort of a ban on plastic bags in place, this bill would be the first-ever statewide blanket ban on single-use plastic bags. This means that plastic bags would no longer be available at any type of store, but paper bags would be available for a ten cent fee. There are, however, a few notable exceptions to the ban; plastic produce bags would still be available at grocery stores and charitable organizations would not be subject to the ban.

The bill’s chief sponsor, state senator Alex Padilla said “[t]his is the beginning of the phaseout of single-use plastic bags – period.” Indeed, the primary argument in favor of the bill rests on protection of the environment by keeping the bags out of landfills and by reducing litter. Supporters of the bill also cite that the recycling process has yet to come up with an efficient way of dealing with plastic bags; right now, single-use bags clog recycling sorting machines and so must be removed before the rest of the recyclable material may be passed into the sorting machine. Supporters say that this often results in only a fraction of the bags being recycled, the rest end up in landfills. In addition, several municipalities which have already adopted some sort of ban on plastic bags report less litter in those areas. A ban in San Jose that took effect in 2012 reportedly reduced the number of plastic bags involved in clogged storm drain by eight-nine percent.

Rather than having political enemies from the opposing political party, this bill has gained enemies from both sides of the aisle: the average consumer. For decades, the plastic bag has been inextricably linked with the American shopping experience, and consumers are angered over the idea of having to pay for something that has always been free. One shopper expressed this sentiment, saying “groceries cost enough money. Then I have to pay for bags?” (As quoted by the L.A. Times.)

But it is not simply the idea of having to pay for something that has always been free which has consumers in such a tizzy. What consumers are most angered by is having to pay for something inferior to the product they had before which was free, and proposed local bans in New Mexico (for example) are attempting to take this into account. The issue with banning plastic bags is that there exists no comparable alternative; paper bags fall apart in the rain, cannot hold anything wet or moist, cannot get crumpled too severely, and tear easily. None of these problems exist with single-use plastic bags.

Of course, there are always the reusable cloth shopping bags that consumers can purchase and undoubtedly already have several of. But who actually remembers to bring those bags along with them shopping every time they go shopping? What happens on those spur-of-the-moment shopping outings? Considering the reality that shoppers will simply not remember or be able to bring reusable bags with them every time they shop, this legislation effectively forces consumers to buy yet another product.

Understandably, the plastics industry is no fan of the proposed legislation either. Hilex Poly, one of the nation’s largest plastics producers, is based out of South Carolina and company executives have already publicly stated that the legislation would only serve to increase imports of “supposedly reusable bags from China.” One of Hilex Poly’s vice presidents, Mark Daniels, also cited the fact that, recycled or not, plastic bags are still very much reused. “They are repurposed as lunch bags and trash can liners, and they come in handy for pet cleanup.”

He points out that, not only is an important item which makes shopping easier and cheaper for every consumer being banned, but an important consumer commodity is also being banned. No longer will consumers have extra plastic bags lying around for miscellaneous uses, and they will have to purchase some form of a replacement product instead. As yet, there is no talk of whether plastic bags purchased in stores like garbage bags are now would become available to consumers to fill the void left by the ban or not, though it seems highly unlikely. This legislation deprives people of something they need in favor of keeping recycling sorting machines unclogged in order to “help” the environment.

While this proposed ban is in far-away California, Minnesotans are already familiar with this sort of legislation. As of January 1, 2010, metro-area yard-waste collection services no longer picked up any yard waste that was not in a recyclable paper bag. I think most people who have had experience with the switch would agree that paper bags are much more cumbersome and ineffective than their plastic counterparts. Not only that, but plastic bags cost a fraction of what the paper ones do. That ban only affected one small part of consumers’ lives, yet it was and continues to be a big pain when fall rolls around. Now imagine a blanket ban on all plastic bags, and not just in one season of the year.

Once again we see the choice being taken away from the private individual, the consumer. Shouldn’t each person decide what product he or she would like to use? Even if there was some cost associated with making that choice, at least it would still be a choice. Admittedly, because the ban is on a statewide level, one cannot make a legal argument against it; but just because a state can do something does not mean that it should do it, or that it is even beneficial to begin with. With the ban-plastic-bags movement picking up steam in California and across the country, this legislation is of the utmost importance. Supporters throughout the nation are looking to California to lead the way once again and will be following the effects of this ban. If judged a success, we can count on other statewide bans to follow closely.