September 1, 2010

California Lawmakers Reject Plastic Shopping Bag Bill

California lawmakers have disappointed environmentalists by rejecting a bill that would ban plastic shopping bags.

The Democratic bill would have been the first statewide ban, although a few California cities already prohibit their use.

Senator Gil Cedillo, who carried the measure on the Senate floor, said that the measure offered California an opportunity to emerge at the forefront of a global trend.

"If we don't solve this problem today, if we don't create a statewide standard, if we don't provide the leadership that is being called for, others will," the Los Angeles Democrat said during Tuesday evening's debate.

Other nations like South Africa, Ireland, China and Bangladesh are discouraging the use of plastic bags through fees and bans.  Washington, D.C. implemented a 5-cent surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags.

A number of California cities have already started to ban the use of plastic bags.

Matthew King, a spokesman for Heal the Bay, told The Associated Press (AP) that Palo Alto, Malibu and Fairfax in Marin County have also approved a ban.

Supporters of the bill said that 19 billion plastic bags are used in the state each year and they harm the environment and cost the state $25 million annually to collect and transport to landfills. 

Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley of Santa Monica, the bill's author, told AP that lawmakers failed Californians by defeating the measure.  However, she said the movement to ban plastic bags would continue despite the setback.

"It's not a matter of if, but a matter of when consumers bring their own bags and become good stewards of the environment," Brownley said in a statement early Wednesday morning.

The bill called for the ban to take effect in supermarkets and large retail stores in 2012.

Some lawmakers opposed it, saying it would add an extra burden on consumers and businesses at a time when many are struggling financially.

"If we pass this piece of legislation, we will be sending a message to the people of California that we care more about banning plastic bags than helping them put food on their table," said Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Lake Forest.

American Chemistry Council spent millions in lobbying fees, radio ads and even a prime-time television ad to appose the bill.  The organization represents plastic bag manufacturers like Dow Chemical Co. and ExxonMobil Corp.

The organization helped defeat an effort by Seattle to impose a 20-cent fee on the state use of plastic or paper grocery bags.

It issued a statement earlier Wednesday morning applauding the California win.

"We congratulate Senate members for discarding a costly bill that provides no real solutions to California's litter problem and would have further jeopardized California's already strained economy," said Tim Shestek, the group's senior director of state affairs.

In 2007, a state law took effect that requires supermarkets and other large retailers to provide plastic bag recycling bins.

Some local government officials said in recent weeks that they would take matters in their own hands if the bill failed.  According to Heal the Bay, officials in Los Angeles County, Redondo Beach and Santa Monica said they would pursue individual city- and countywide bans in the coming months.