Wednesday, June 9, 2010

California is About to Ban Plastic Grocery Bags and Charge for Paper Bags

Who says California has a do-nothing legislature?

It may be avoiding acting on major issues, such as the state budget.

It may have its head in the sands on the $20 billion budget deficit.

But it is acting expeditiously to ban plastic bags and impose a nickel fee on paper bags. The proposals have sailed through the legislature so fast that an organized opposition could not mount.

The Assembly passed the bill, 41-27, on Wednesday, June 1, and the Senate followed on Friday,

The bill would prohibit pharmacies, grocery, liquor and convenience stores from giving out plastic bags. Stores would be required to sell paper bags for at least a nickel each.

The bill awaits the Governor’s signature, which has been promised. Governor Schwarzenegger has called it “a great victory for the environment.”

I am tempted to get facetious at this point and ask questions like, if we eliminate the plastic bags, then what can we use for marijuana baggies and to collect the pooper scooper droppings?

Environmentalists and grocers formed a strange alliance in support of the proposals.

The environmentalist support is understandable. An estimated 19 billion, non-biodegradable plastic bags are distributed each year in California. Only about 6% are reused. They remaining 94% show up as litter throughout the state, costing an estimate $23 million for taxpayers to clean up.

For grocers, the reasons are purely economic. Instead of giving out plastic or paper bags, they want to charge us for bags, adding to their bottom line. They’ve tried some alternative approaches in the past, such as credits for reusing bags. That failed, so now they want to use the coercive power of the state against consumers to profit the merchants.

The nickel fee may add up to $1 billion annually.

In addition to the nickel fee, the grocers are pushing the $1 partially recyclable bags purchased at checkout. These reusable grocery bags, partially made from
recyclables, will over time become a vector for disease, especially from accumulated bacterium.

Only two cities in California have banned the plastic bags so far, Malibu and San Francisco. Dozens have considered doing so and backed off, awaiting a California Supreme Court opinion on whether an environmental study should be prepared before banning the plastic bags.

The argument is that paper bags are more damaging to the environment than plastic bags in transportation costs and the release of greenhouse gasses in producing the paper bags.

Legislative efforts to tax or ban the plastics have failed three times in the past.

Often times, our environmental aspirations exceed our reach. My hunch is that when the law goes into effect a backlash will ensue, and a referendum will be placed on the ballot to repeal it. Talk show hosts, especially John and Ken of KFI, will have a field day with this one.

A couple of states in the past tried to ban disposable diapers. Resistance, even from affluent environmentalists blocked those attempts.

Sometimes convenience trumps the environment.

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