Written with guest co-author, Carlos Zegarra.
Senator Padilla, Senator De Leόn, and Senator Lara, supported by a diverse alliance of Californians, have announced a breakthrough compromise bill to address the economic and environmental costs of single-use plastic shopping bags. The new compromise approach in SB 270 has evolved from the previous bag bill, SB 405, and will allow shoppers to use or buy reusable shopping bags, and paper bags with minimum recycled content can be sold for 10 cents, but single-use plastic bags will be banned. The important compromise brokered by this group of Senators is to give California plastic bag manufacturers access to funds to retrain their workers and retool their plants to make other products.
According to an NRDC survey of data reported by 95 California cities, litter on California streets costs local government nearly $450 million dollars each year, and plastic bags are one of the most common forms of waste found in coastal cleanups. Once plastic bags escape into the environment, they can choke and entangle marine animals, especially endangered sea turtles and whales. Efforts to establish plastic bag recycling in the state have failed, and the bags cause serious problems for recycling centers, where they jam machines.
This latest effort builds on the single-use plastic bag bans passed in over 90 California municipalities. The Latino Coalition for a California Bag Ban applauds this as an important step in the right direction (Latino.Coalition-CA.bag.ban.pdf) – away from the wasteful throwaway habits that seemed like a good idea back in the 1950’s.
Until we can pass a comprehensive program to reduce plastic pollution, especially through producer responsibility, we need to join efforts in such far flung places as Rwanda, China, and the European Union to stop pollution from plastic bags. Like DDT, asbestos, and CFCs, plastic bags make the list of dubious items that just aren’t worth it.