A trade group has turned in enough signatures to put a referendum on California’s plastic bag ban on the November 2016 ballot, suspending implementation of the nation’s first statewide ban until voters can weigh in, state election officials said Tuesday.
The plastic bag manufacturing trade group American Progressive Bag Alliance had 555,000 of the roughly 505,000 valid signatures needed to qualify the referendum after a random sample of the signatures, said Bill Mabie, chief deputy for Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The group had submitted more than 800,000 signatures at the end of last year.
After one of the fiercest legislative battles of 2014, pitting bagmakers against environmentalists, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill last fall. It was scheduled to be phased in starting in July at large grocery stores and supermarkets as a way to cut down on litter and protect marine life.
But the American Progressive Bag Alliance said the ban amounts to a cash giveaway to grocers that would lead to job losses.
“California voters will now have the chance to vote down a terrible law that, if implemented, would kill 2,000 local manufacturing jobs and funnel obscene profits to big grocers without any money going to a public purpose or environmental initiative,” the group’s executive director, Lee Califf, said in a news release.
Supporters of the statewide ban criticized manufacturers for spending millions on the referendum campaign to continue selling single-use plastic bags. “This is a cynical ploy by out-of-state interests desperate to delay a ban already adopted in more than 100 communities across California,” said Brown’s spokesman, Evan Westrup.
Mark Murray, a spokesman for California vs. Big Plastic, said the coalition of environmental, labor and business groups is confident that state voters will uphold the existing statewide ban.
“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,” Murray said.
Under the legislation by Padilla, who was then a state senator, California was to begin pulling plastic bags out of checkout counters at large grocery stores, such as Walmart and Target, and pharmacies this summer. The ban was scheduled to expand to convenience and liquor stores in 2016.
Padilla was elected in November as California secretary of state, whose office oversees the process to qualify initiatives for the ballot.
The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.
To address concerns about job losses, the bill included $2 million in loans for plastic bag manufacturers to shift their operations to making reusable bags.
Environmental activists have successfully pushed plastic bag bans in cities across the United States, including Chicago; Austin, Texas; and Seattle. Hawaii also is on track to have a de facto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.
More than 100 cities and counties in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, already have such bans. Several other local governments in the state plan to move forward with their own bans as a result of the referendum, including Santa Barbara County, Sacramento, American Canyon, San Diego and Oceanside.
Readers of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star weighed in on the suspension of the plastic bag ban on the papers’ Facebook pages. A sampling of the responses:
▪ Yvonne Dutra: “How sad that people are too lazy to carry their own bags!”
▪ Sandy Yoppini: “Just make sure we vote for it again!”
▪ Kevin Weatherby: “I suggest anybody that thinks this is a good idea go take a tour of the landfill. In a high-pressure environment, it can take over 30 years for a plastic bag to dissipate. I worked at a landfill before and plastic bags are a major problem for our environment. Our oceans, rivers, lakes, etc.”
▪ Joy Martino: “Good. Now if people could just recycle them. There wouldn’t be a problem.”
▪ Lydia Fields: “My bathroom trash can would like to thank them.”
▪ Patricia Flosi Cruise: “Great news, and it makes sense because don’t most people reuse these bags? If banned, people would buy plastic bags, and it wouldn’t solve the problem anyway.”
▪ Daniele Shaffer: “That’s very sad. You’d think the people would want to help the environment by getting rid of the plastic bags.”
▪ Denise Collins Evans: “What makes me happiest about this is that we get to vote on it to see what the majority wants to do instead of just a few lawmakers getting to decide for us!”
▪ Carmen Arauz: “We need to be environmentally friendly to our planet. Reusable bags are the way to go. Bring your own shopping bags. I guess using bags for garbage, that’s understandable, but I think if the ban went through, personally I would have been happier.”