Plastic bag makers fight back against California's new ban

California Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed a new law prohibiting grocery and convenience stores from offering single-use plastic bags. Within a day, bag manufactures said they'd try to kill the law via ballot measure.

Mike Blake/Reuters/File
Groceries are carried in plastic bags in San Diego, California. Single-use plastic bags are set to disappear from California grocery stores over the next two years as the state bans plastic bags.

The ink is barely dry on California’s first-ever statewide ban on plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores, but the opposition has already begun efforts to undo the newly minted law.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), an industry trade group representing plastic bag manufacturers, has announced a campaign to put a referendum on the 2016 ballot. It has begun the process of collecting the more than half a million necessary signatures.

APBA turned down a request for an interview, but said in a statement that it considers the new law a “scam” that will benefit grocery stores without helping the environment, and that the ten-cent fee for alternative bags will unduly burden low-income residents.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the law on Tuesday. At least 127 California municipalities already are covered by plastic bag bans of some kind, according to Californians Against Waste.

However, APBA maintains that the majority of California voters do not support the ban.

“Since state lawmakers failed their constituents by approving this terrible bill, we will take the question directly to the public and have great faith they will repeal it at the ballot box,” the industry group’s statement vows.

The opposition has 90 days to collect the necessary signatures. The number gathered must be equal to 5 percent of the votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last gubernatorial election (504,760).

Upon qualifying for the ballot, the law will be suspended until voters cast their ballots in November of 2016.  If voters act to repeal the law, it will end. If voters turn down the repeal effort, the law will go into effect in January 2017.

The effort to overturn this law has support from at least one Los Angeles County supervisor, Mike Antonovich, who voted against the Los Angeles ban four years ago. According to his Planning and Public Works Deputy, Edel Vizcarra, the law is an “overreach” by government.

“There are many ways to change behavior that were never tried,” he says, adding that bans are the least effective method.

While the bill includes a provision for some $2 million in loans to help manufacturers transition to recyclable bags, Mr. Vizcarra says that is far from sufficient and the law will push companies that provide some 2,000 jobs out of state.

The law provides exemptions for low-income residents who are on public assistance. But Vizcarra says that many low-income residents are not on public assistance and will be hit if they have to buy a new bag every time they go to the grocery store.  Many residents do not like reusable bags, he adds, because they are seen as unsanitary.

Interviews with shoppers reveal that while many support the ban in theory, there is lukewarm support on the ground. 

“I’m embarrassed to admit that it annoys me,” says retiree Wayne Norton outside the Ralph’s grocery store in Sherman Oaks. "So I keep quiet about my irritation. I’ve been coming here for years and years and now I have to pay for a bag. It’s not so much the 10 cents as the awkward moment. Who wants to be caught saying ‘no’ to 10 cents?” he adds.

Wendrif Mickens, sales manager at the same Ralphs, says, “To tell you frankly, views are mixed. Some people really like it. Others really don’t. Some of the people who don’t like it get really annoyed because they forget to bring their reusables in. Others want to save the dime so they tell us just to put everything in the cart and then they wheel it out to their car and just place everything on the seat.”

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