California voters will soon decide whether to ban single-use plastic bags, the kind you get in grocery stores or take-out restaurants. But if you live in Los Angeles, you might be asking, “didn’t we already do that?”
Single-use plastic bags have been outlawed in the City of Los Angeles since 2014 and many other parts of the county since 2011. Stores and restaurants now offer only paper bags to customers for 10 cents each. More than 150 California communities have banned the bag.
This issue was almost resolved in 2014 when the California legislature passed a statewide ban.
But that state law never actually took effect. The plastic bag industry immediately began to take action against it. They collected signatures for a voter referendum to prevent the ban from ever becoming law. And that’s why California voters will see Proposition 67 on the November ballot.
Simply put, a ‘yes’ vote on Prop. 67 will make the statewide plastic bag ban law. A ‘no’ vote keeps the ban from being statewide. It leaves any possible ban decision up to municipalities across the state.
“If voters believe that this was a bad piece of legislation that should be repealed, they will have that opportunity,” said Jon Berrier with the American Progressive Bag Alliance. His group represents plastic bag manufacturers across the country.
Berrier says that a bag ban threatens 2,000 jobs in California. If Proposition 67 passes and the ban goes into effect, $2 million will go to bag manufacturers for job training and transitioning to making thicker, reusable plastic bags. But that doesn’t satisfy Berrier.
“The reality is that the $2 million that was written into this law is laughable,” said Berrier. He says it is just not enough to counter the job losses.
Supporters of Prop. 67 say plastic bags are bad for the environment.
“Most of them will end up in the landfill or in our waterways or in our neighborhoods where they do not biodegrade, I mean they’re an oil-based product. So they will outlive every human on earth that’s here right now,” said Dana Murray, who is the senior coastal policy manager for Heal the Bay.
She says another reason bags should be banned is how much it costs to clean up the litter left behind. She says the state spends up to $107 million dollars a year managing plastic bag litter.
“We’ve seen in municipalities where they already have plastic bag bans in place that these clean up costs are reduced,” said Murray. She says that since the bag ban passed in LA, already they’re seeing less plastic on the beaches.
For his part, Berrier says the statewide bag ban was never about protecting the environment. It’s about that 10 cents you pay to get a paper bag. And those dimes add up.
“This was an alliance of environmental activists and retailers who ultimately saw enormous dollar signs to the tunes of hundreds of millions of dollars a year in new profits off of these bag fees,” said Berrier.
If Proposition 67 passes, grocery stores would continue to keep all those dimes you pay for paper bags. That’s why the plastic bag industry sponsored a second ballot initiative you’ll also see in November: Proposition 65.
Proposition 65 redirects the 10 cents spent on plastic or paper carryout bags to a fund controlled by the California Wildlife Conservation Board. Berrier says that the money would go to environmental projects like drought mitigation, parks funding and beach cleanup.
“The only way that money is going to go to a valid public purpose, or to the environment is with a yes vote on 65,” said Berrier
That sounds like something environmentalists would support, but Murray says it’s a bait and switch.
“Essentially, it’s like a rival measure to Prop. 67, kind of a smokescreen to confuse the public,” said Murray.
“What I don’t want to see if voters get fooled by Prop. 65, thinking that this is the environmental vote,” said Murray, “It’s really voting ‘Yes’ on 67 that would further cleaning up our environment in California.”
A poll on this topic from 2014, just after the Senate voted on the original ban, showed that 59 percent of California voters supported a statewide plastic bag ban.
If both measures pass, plastic bags will be banned, but the ten cents will go to either the stores or the state fund, depending on which measure gets more votes.
Now, two years later, voters will get to determine whether or not the original ban was a waste.