The California State Legislature became the first in the nation to approve a plastic bag ban in August of 2014, and on Sept. 30, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law.
It was a proud moment for Save Our Shores. Our team and the Central Coast Sanctuary Alliance had been working with Central Coast jurisdictions to pass local plastic bag bans for three years. As a result of our efforts, the Monterey Bay region has the strictest bag bans in California.
Though the statewide ban is not without its flaws—it only requires large stores to stop distributing single-use plastic bags and it defines a reusable bag as being only 2.25 mils thick—we consider its passage to be a landmark victory. After all, it mandates cities like Scotts Valley and Sand City, which have previously resisted bans, to comply.
Much to our dismay, the plastic bag industry immediately filed a referendum to repeal the law once it was signed. In order to suspend implementation of the bag ban until the November 2016 ballot, the opposition had to collect nearly 505,000 valid signatures in favor of a repeal on the ban by the end of 2014. More than 800,000 signatures were estimated to have been collected by supporters, and the signatures are currently awaiting verification by county election offices. The verification process is expected to be completed by the end of February or sooner. Twenty-three of the 58 counties have completed and submitted their numbers.
If the veto referendum campaign fails to get the bill placed on the ballot, it will go into effect for big businesses in 2015 and for small businesses in 2016.
It is important to note that there is a lot of money at stake. For instance, by mid-December 2014, plastic bag makers had already spent more than $3 million—more than $5 per signature—in hopes of placing a referendum on the ban on the November 2016 ballot, according to data from the California Secretary of State. At the time, nearly 98 percent of the contributions were from out-of-state companies.
Michele Nestor summed it up nicely in her article, “Legislating Behavior: Battle of the Bags”: “Californians Against Waste claims that more than $200 million dollars’ worth of plastic bags are sold in California alone each year. Consider what that potentially means on a national scale, and it is easy to understand what’s at stake here.”
In response to the claims by the plastic bag industry that a statewide ban would line the “deep pockets” of grocers, Scott Roseman, the founder of New Leaf Community Markets, recently voiced his opinion in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:
Support the planet, fight effort to delay bag ban
As the founder of New Leaf Community Markets, I feel it necessary to voice my opposition to the plastic industry’s efforts to delay the statewide single-use plastic bag ban. The American Progressive Bag Alliance claims the ban is a backroom deal to line grocers’ pockets. In reality, most grocers were happy to offer plastic bags, as they are cheaper than paper. For 30 years, New Leaf has offered only paper bags because plastic bags endanger our environment. However, the use of new paper bags has its own environmental impacts, both in production and disposal. This is why we encourage customers to reuse bags. When they do, we contribute to local environmental organizations for every bag saved. This program has motivated many customers to reuse bags, but the largest reduction in new bag use resulted from the plastic bag ban, coupled with the fee for new paper bags. Most consumers now remember to bring bags, and new paper bag use has dropped significantly. So, please don’t listen to the plastic industry. Support our planet by opposing their initiative.
— Scott Roseman, Santa Cruz
Our Program Manager, Rachel, also shared her views on the attempts to repeal the law with the Santa Cruz Sentinel:
Cannot put price on state’s natural resources
California’s natural resources and environmental beauty are taking a beating from the capitalist and corporate agenda. Exhibit A: The American Progressive Bag Alliance’s efforts to delay a statewide plastic bag ban. The American Chemistry Council argues the ban will eliminate jobs in the plastics industry and line the deep pockets of grocers. In reality, the annual income generated by local grocers could not hold a candle to the exorbitant wealth of the plastics industry. According to Californians Against Waste, the plastics industry will likely make a profit of roughly $145 million by delaying the ban’s implementation by at least one year. While some feel the ban pales in comparison to many issues facing California, we, at Save Our Shores, believe our state’s ability to create strong environmental policy is a reflection of how we prioritize natural resources. The passage of a statewide ban was a landmark victory for California’s environmental health. We should celebrate the energy saved by eliminating industries that promote overconsumption and discard natural resources, not to mention the decreased spending on waste management and environmental cleanup. If we have to assign a dollar amount to the environment for the government to understand its plight, let’s do it: Priceless.
— Rachel Kippen, Save Our Shores, Santa Cruz
We do not anticipate that the plastic bag industry will give up without a fight. The best thing you can do at this time to help ensure the implementation of the statewide ban is stay informed! As the anti-referendum campaign moves forward, we need more people to know what’s going on. Lack of awareness is the reason that some people were tricked into signing the petition to repeal the ban: