Is It In The Bag: Can California Lead The Nation Yet Again?

California is poised to become the first state to outlaw the distribution of single-use plastic and paper bags from food retailers, a decision that will be instrumental in reducing waste and marine pollution in California. Assembly Bill 1998 (Brownley) passed on a 41-27 vote last Wednesday. The bill will move on for Senate approval in the coming weeks.

Currently, store operators are required by state law to provide on-site recycling containers for plastic carry-out bags. San Francisco has implemented a citywide ordinance outlawing disposable bags in all chain supermarkets and pharmacies.  AB 1998 would take the restriction a step further by prohibiting the distribution of single-use plastic bags by all convenience stores, supermarkets and other specified stores beginning January of 2012. Retailers would be allowed to sell recycled paper bags made of at least 40 percent post consumer material for no less than $0.05 per bag.

The legislation encourages the use of reusable shopping bags as a waste reduction mechanism. Californians consume an estimated nineteen billion plastic bags per year, only five percent of which are recycled. Governor Schwarzenegger released a statement after the passage applauding the bill as a “great victory for our environment.”