First of Two Parts
The California State Assembly has passed a bill to ban single-use plastic bags. The next stop is the State Senate where, if passed, the ban would prohibit all supermarkets, retail pharmacies and convenience stores from distributing the bags at the point of sale. The ban would come into effect as early as January 2012.
The State Senate is set to vote on the ban no later than mid-July, after it is reviewed by the Environmental Quality Committee and the Appropriations Committee for Budget. A minimum of 21 votes is required for it to pass.
“Plastic kills 267 species every year and threatens our $43 billion ocean economy,” said Gina Goodhill, an Ocean’s Advocate for Environment California, a citizen-based advocacy organization. “This is a tangible, simple way to start seeing a big difference in the protection of our oceans.”
The 42-27 State Assembly vote marked an environmental victory that could not have succeeded without the ever-growing support it received from several “green” organizations, politicians, celebrities and everyday advocates alike.
“That’s what’s unique about this bill,” said Goodhill, “because there are a ton of people across the board who want to see this happen.”
While the ban is not a novel idea to many Californians – San Francisco was the first US city to prohibit the use of plastic bags, and was quickly followed by Palo Alto, Manhattan Beach, Malibu, Oakland and Fairfax – it would provide a uniform set of statewide regulations. And according to Californians Against Waste, it would also save $25 million a year that is spent to landfill discarded plastic bags.
Despite the progress being made, the United States is trailing significantly behind the rest of the world in its efforts to reduce its plastic footprint. In fact, several countries have already made great environmental strides by either banning plastic bags completely or charging people to use them.
A few local stores are putting in the extra effort – and sometimes money – to help promote “green” alternatives. Target (3245 Sports Arena Blvd.), for example, implemented an incentive plan that reduces a shopper’s total bill by 5 cents for each reusable bag they bring and fill in lieu of a plastic one.
Similarly, CVS (3950 West Point Loma Blvd.) launched the GreenBagTag incentive program. It requires an initial fee of 99 cents for the Tag, which is swiped every time the shopper declines a plastic bag. After each fourth swipe the shopper earns a $1 coupon that can be applied at the next visit.
Stump’s Family Marketplace (3770 Voltaire St.) provides bins for recycling plastic bags, which are picked up weekly by their wholesaler. According to Dirk Stumps, owner and member of the California Grocers Association, they also have quarterly promotions giving away reusable bags to customers who purchase a certain item or spend a certain amount.
Though Stumps dislikes the idea of a government-enforced ban, he realizes the plastics bags are a problem.
“Something needs to be done,” he said, “but I don’t know who the burden should fall on.” He adds he has concerns about the implementation of the ban at store level.
Ocean Beach People’s Organic Foods Market (4765 Voltaire St.) only offers paper bags at check out, at no direct cost to their customers. They also encourage reusable bag use with a biweekly raffle, where the names of shoppers who choose to reuse a bag are collected and submitted to win. The prize is a $30 food credit, which adds up to $3,120 each year.
“(The customer) can bring any bag,” said Floor Manager Bonnie Lavaliere, “just as long as they’re not using a new bag from us.”
Baron’s Marketplace (4001 West Point Loma Blvd.) currently offers both paper and plastic bags to their customers and the store supervisor says no incentive program to encourage reusable bag use is scheduled to be put in place at this time.
Rite Aid on (4840 Niagara Ave.) neglected to comment on their plastic bag policy and their media line did not return calls.
But while the US has taken small steps to improve the situation, other countries have made full strides to reduce plastic bag use. According to the Earth Resource Foundation, Ireland has seen a 90 percent reduction since imposing a 15 cent tax on them in 2002. The concept was apparently contagious because Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, the United Kingdom, Israel and Holland soon followed suit. In South America and South Africa, plastic bag restrictions are gaining popularity.
Another big change came in 2008, when China surprised the world by banning the free plastic bag. The National Development and Reform Commission estimates the ban has reduced the number of bags used by 66 percent, thereby decreasing the country’s dependency on oil by almost 40 million barrels annually.
Whether it comes in the form of a law or just an incentive, the environmental awareness that is growing is undeniable. The passing of the ban in the State Senate would be a monumental triumph for California and a rallying cry for ecological movements across the nation.
“The law is going to pass,” said Stumps. “And when it does, we will make the changes we need to.”
Annie Lane is a new blogger to this site, having just graduated from SDSU with a journalism degree. This is her first post with us. Welcome, Annie – this is a great start! – ED.