It was not surprising that out-of-state plastic-bag makers succeeded in temporarily scuttling a statewide ban on single-use grocery bags that would have begun in July. With enough money to sink into signature gathering, any interest group can get its self-serving idea on a ballot.
And plastic-bag manufacturers and their friends spent more than $3 million on this referendum. The industry has sunk millions more into fighting the slow spread of bag bans in California in recent years.
This time, it bought itself 16 months more of protection for its lucrative business, which trashes the Golden State. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, the man who carried the bag ban bill when he was a state senator, announced that the referendum to undo his bill had qualified for the November 2016 ballot.
For Californians who don’t live in a city or county that already has a ban, this will mean a reprieve from the minor inconvenience of having to bring reusable bags on grocery shopping trips or paying for paper bags.
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For the state’s beaches, oceans, rivers, parks, streets, rivers and sewer systems, however, it means billions more plastic bags to accommodate. Less than 5 percent of the estimated 14 billion single-use bags used in California each year are recycled; the rest go to landfills or end up causing problems in the environment.
Californians don’t have to allow this interstate abuse of their hometowns and public space. There may be a hold on a statewide ban, but nothing is stopping local governments from joining more than 130 cities and counties that said “heck no” to bag pollution long before the state Legislature could get it together to pass a ban.
Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and the City Council, we’re looking right at you.
In December, after the referendum signatures were turned in, Johnson proposed a local bag ban to take effect if the referendum qualified. Johnson said cleaning up plastic-bag waste costs the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“They cause problems by clogging up our recycling equipment, forcing it to be shut down on a regular basis. And we’re forced to use parks and other city personnel to clean up plastic bag pollution all over the city every day,” he said in a statement.
We’ll be expecting to see this proposal on a City Council agenda before March is through.
It would be a powerful gesture for the capital city to embrace the ban, and would show that local government can accomplish what the Legislature cannot.
Roughly one-third of Californians live in a city, like Davis, that already has some sort of ban on plastic bags. Plastic bag makers have sued some of them, but have been unable to stop the shift in public sentiment.
Yes, it can be a pain to have to buy paper bags if you forget the reusable bags, or to have to buy dog-waste bags, but most people have adjusted when they realize the “free” bags come with substantial costs to the public treasury and the environment.
Besides, it’s galling that a small group of companies from Texas, South Carolina and New Jersey is trying to determine California’s public policy. Californians can shut them down by urging their city councils and county supervisors to adopt a ban on single-use plastic bags right away.