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Capitol Alert

Californians say farewell to the plastic bag


Californians now face a new grocery-store reality: No more plastic bags.

Voters approved Proposition 67, the statewide ban on carry-out plastic bags, 52 percent to 48 percent.

“It’s a victory that California voters have said ‘no’ to big plastic,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste. “The defense of this law by grass-roots environmental organizations and community groups is a real testament to this new era of monied special interests not having their way.”

The ban takes effect immediately, which means grocery stores, retail stores with a pharmacy, convenience stores, food marts and liquor stores will no longer provide single-use plastic carry-out bags to customers. So, if you forget to bring your own bag to the store, be prepared to pay at least 10 cents for a recycled paper bag or reusable alternative.

The plastic bag industry, largely companies Hilex Poly and Formosa Plastics, paid for Proposition 67 to qualify for the ballot as a referendum to Senate Bill 270. The law banned single-use plastic bags and would have taken effect on Jan. 1, 2015. But the industry’s referendum halted the ban from going into effect until voters weighed in at the polls.

After the measure landed on the ballot, plastic bag companies largely stopped campaigning, which suggests the referendum was simply a ploy to postpone the law and buy time to sell more bags. The industry has fiercely protected its products across the country, even encouraging legislators in states like Wisconsin and Indiana to pass laws prohibiting local jurisdictions from enacting their own bans.

Environmentalists and grocers led the winning pro-bag ban campaign with a fundraising pot of just $1.6 million, compared to the industry’s $6.1 million. The pro-ban campaign cast plastic bags as an ecological nuisance that ultimately end up in rivers, streams, oceans and other waterways.

Life without the flimsy carry-alls will be a change for most Sacramento-area residents. Only a handful of local cities and counties, including Sacramento County, the city of Sacramento, Grass Valley and Davis, had already banned bags by Election Day.

,The statewide ban surprised shoppers in communities that did not have a local ordinance. Tasha Wilson left a Safeway store in Roseville bagless on Thursday, instead carrying three frozen pizzas and a carton of ice cream in her arms.

“I will not be paying 10 cents for a bag,” she said, adding that she would bring her own bags.

Cindy Stanley wheeled a cart full of loose grocery items through the parking lot. She usually brings her own bags, which she keeps in her car, she said, but she had her father’s car Thursday. Stanley said she voted for the plastic bag ban.

“I think it’s a positive thing,” she said. “They just get loose and blow around. We’re kind of slobs. We don’t want to pick up anything.”

Gordon Baldwin paid for paper bags. Baldwin, who lives in Maui and was visiting family in Roseville, said the bags would be reused. In Maui, he said, “we’ve not had plastic bags for three years and it has been extremely beneficial to the landscape.”

About 150 cities and counties across the state, including major population hubs such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Jose, Oakland and Long Beach, also had banned bags before voters weighed in at the polls.

The statewide law allows municipalities to continue to operate under their own guidelines if the ordinances were adopted before Jan. 1, 2015. Otherwise the communities must comply with the new state law.

Residents in areas that enacted bans after the cutoff date, including the city and county of Sacramento, shouldn’t expect any changes. The environmentalists and grocers supporting Proposition 67 worked closely with every community that imposed late bans to ensure ordinances were written identically to the statewide measure, thus guaranteeing a smooth transition when it passed, according to Murray.

Murray said most bans enacted prior to the election and the cutoff date are very similar to the state law, with the exception of the charge for alternative bags, which varies from 5 to 25 cents.

Despite efforts by the plastic bag companies, retailers will keep revenue from sales of alternative bags to cover the costs of complying with the ban, as outlined in Proposition 67.

The coalition of plastic bag companies that pushed to overturn SB 270 also put a second measure, Proposition 65, on the ballot. Proposition 65, largely seen as an attack on grocers for supporting the bag ban, directed the money to an environmental fund instead. Proposition 65 lost, with 55 percent opposed in the count Wednesday morning.

Bee Staff Writer Cathy Locke contributed to this report.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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