- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2016

LOS ANGELES — California’s first-in-the-nation statewide ban on reusable plastic bags could be sacked in November amid a brewing backlash over whether the measure’s effectiveness outweighs its inconvenience.

At issue is Senate Bill 270, which bans single-use plastic grocery bags and requires stores to charge at least 10 cents for alternative totes, such as paper. Passed in 2014, the law has yet to take effect pending the outcome of a veto referendum backed by the plastics industry that qualified last year for the November ballot.

The state measure is similar to hundreds of ordinances passed nationwide since San Francisco enacted the first ban on plastic carryout bags in 2007. In California alone, 137 local governments have implemented local bans on single-use plastic bags, according to Californians Against Waste.

But the repeal effort — known as Bag the Ban — comes amid signs that consumers may have grown weary of juggling their groceries or remembering to bring their canvas bags in the face of a campaign challenging the benefits of such bans.

In June, Huntington Beach became the first city in California to repeal a ban on plastic bags, voting 6-1 to reverse the 2013 ordinance after candidate Mike Posey was elected to the city council on a freedom-of-choice platform that included ditching the prohibition.

“It’s not an environmental issue,” Mr. Posey told the Orange County Register. “It’s a freedom issue.”

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The Dallas City Council voted June 8 to repeal its bag ban after a lawsuit filed by bag manufacturers and recyclers charged that the prohibition violated state law.

Last year, Arizona and Missouri moved to ban localities from enacting plastic bag ordinances, while similar measures are under consideration this year in Idaho, Indiana and Wisconsin, said Phil Rozenski, policy chair for the American Progressive Bag Alliance.

“What you see the states saying is if there’s going to be a debate on regulating products, it should happen on a state level,” said Mr. Rozenski. “The whole reason environmentalists proposed this in California is that they were saying, ‘The local bag bans aren’t effective, we need a statewide ban.’”

The Bag the Ban campaign is also moving to qualify a second measure for the ballot that would direct the fee charged for replacement bags to environmental projects instead of grocery stores. The industry has already spent about $5 million on the measures combined, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Lining up against the industry, which is backed by taxpayers’ groups, is a potent coalition of environmental groups, green-energy companies and top political leaders, including Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

“It’s not surprising that after spending more than $3.2 million, 98 percent of which is from out of state, the plastic bag industry has bought its way onto the California ballot to protect its profits,” said Mark Murray of Californians vs. Big Plastic in a statement last year.

“Every poll shows that Californians strongly support the law, and the $30 million to $50 million it will cost the plastics industry to launch a full-fledged campaign in 2016 will be proven to be an act of political malpractice, particularly since nearly half the state will no longer have plastic bags by election day,” Mr. Murray said.

Californians Against Waste estimates that “every day that California’s statewide plastic bag ban is delayed, 17 million more plastic bags are sold in the state that would not be sold if the ban were in effect.”

Elsewhere, however, localities weighing the environmental pros and cons of bag bans are finding that the results aren’t always clear cut.

In Austin, Texas, a study commissioned by the city found that its March 2013 ban had dramatically reduced litter and lowered the landfill percentage of single-use bags, but that they had been replaced by higher-density reusable plastic bags, which were actually worse for the environment.

“Indeed, the amount of single use plastic bags has been reduced, both in count and by weight. However, in their place, the larger 4 mil bags have replaced them as the go-to standard when the reusable bag is left at home,” said the June 10 report. “This reusable plastic bag, along with the paper bag, has a very high carbon footprint compared to the single use bag.”

Another result was that grocery stores stopped their plastic-bag recycling programs after they stopped offering single-use plastic bags, the report said.



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