California Lawmakers Just Did What No Other State Has Done Before

The news: In a major victory for environmentalists, California may soon become the first state to officially ban all plastic bags. The state legislature has narrowly approved a measure to remove all lightweight, single-use plastic bags from grocery, convenience and liquor stores by 2016, grandfathering in the more than 100 cities and counties that have already taken action to ban the bags on their own, according to the Sacramento Bee

Source: Getty Images

Fierce opposition from paper and plastic bag industry lobbyists and national manufacturing companies now makes signing the bill a tough choice for Gov. Jerry Brown, a moderate Democrat with a long commitment to environmental issues but a mixed record on issues like fracking. Conservatives in particular are rankling Brown, calling the measure another nanny state law.

But this is a real issue that deserves real action: Though it seems like a minor move, California will reap big savings from the ban as well as reduce its environmental impact. According to Californians Against Waste, the state spends around $11 per resident, or $428 million total, protecting waterways against litter, and an astonishing 8-25% of the waste being removed is plastic bags. The group also notes southern California cities have spent $1.7 billion meeting maximum water waste limits, while San Jose alone says plastic bag jams in recycling machinery costs around $1 million in repairs annually. The environmental impact is potentially huge, reports the L.A. Times.A. Times:

More than 14 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed by retailers each year and 88% of plastic bags are not recycled, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  In California, only 3% are recycled, according to CalRecycle. 

The bill is a compromise between environmentalists and plastic bag manufacturers, who will gain access to a $2 million fund designed to help factories shift to producing reusable bags as well as allows them to charge 10 cents each to cover the cost of paper or multi-use bags. Despite claims that the bill would eliminate 2,000 jobs and accomplish nothing, CAW executive director Mark Murray told the L.A. Times that there's been no firings or economic impact in the many communities that have already passed similar legislation.

The legislation would make California the first state to officially ban the use of lightweight plastic bags at grocery stores, but it's not the first to put the process in motion. Hawaii is currently implementing a plastic bag ban in four out of the state's five counties, covering almost all of the state's grocery stores (Kalawao County, the only holdout, has a population of just 90 people).

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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