Cities and counties across California started banning disposable plastic shopping bags nearly a decade ago — for good reason.
Discarded bags block storm drains, dangle from trees and choke wildlife. Billions more clog landfills where they take centuries to decompose. And efforts to promote recycling bags largely failed.
Sonoma County and all nine local cities joined together, with support and cooperation from local grocers, to pass an ordinance banning plastic shopping bags, which took effect in 2014. A few months later, California lawmakers enacted the nation’s first statewide ban.
But it’s been bagged up by the plastic industry ever since.
Bag manufacturers and an industry trade group pumped millions of dollars into placing two measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, both intended to bury California’s law. Don’t let them get away with it.
Proposition 67 is a referendum targeting the bag law. Voting yes would uphold the state law, allowing it to finally take effect.
Proposition 65 would require grocers to relinquish revenue from the 10-cent fee on reusable plastic or paper bags available to shoppers who don’t bring their own bags. This initiative was a cynical attempt to turn grocers against the bag ban. It didn’t work. Grocers still support the ban, and voters should reject Proposition 65.
Californians go through as many as 15 billion flimsy, petroleum-based, disposable bags every year, and only about 3 percent are recycled. The rest are dumped in landfills or become litter.
By some estimates, as many as 30 billion plastic bags were being distributed annually in California alone before the first local ban was enacted in 2007 in San Francisco.
Since then, almost 150 cities and counties have adopted their own bag laws, and, with uncertainty about the status of the state law, local governments continue to enact their own bans. San Diego, the state’s second-largest city, joined the list this summer.
The local laws will remain in effect even if Proposition 65 fails. (Yes, fails. Referendums can be confusing; the sponsors want to overturn the law, but the ballot question presented to voters asks whether to uphold the law.)
Among the motivations for adopting a statewide bag law was the proliferation of local laws. For one thing, the local laws are evidence of public support for getting rid of disposable plastic bags. However, many counties have found themselves with a patchwork of regulations. Plastic bags are distributed in some cities but not in others. That’s needlessly confusing for consumers and a logistical nuisance for grocers.
More than 230 million disposable shopping bags were distributed annually in Sonoma County before the “paper or plastic” era ended in 2014. It was a bit of a hassle at first, but complaints died down as people got used to carrying bags in the car or keeping a few at work. Studies in other communities that banned disposable bags found a reduction in litter and even a reduction in the use of paper grocery bags.
These benefits would increase exponentially with a statewide ban, and only the plastic bag industry would benefit from reversing course. The Press Democrat recommends a no vote on Proposition 65 and a yes vote on Proposition 67.