June 27, 2010 in Nation/World

Free shopping bags in jeopardy

California close to imposing charge, favoring reusables
Jim Sanders McClatchy
Associated Press photo

A customer walks into a grocery store in Palo Alto, Calif., earlier this month. It could soon cost California shoppers at checkout if they forget to bring their own bag under what would be the nation’s first statewide plastic bag ban.
(Full-size photo)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California’s supermarket shopping experience is marked by a simple question: Paper or plastic?

Soon the answer may be neither.

California would become the first state to ban grocery, liquor and drugstores from providing free paper or plastic bags under legislation pushed by Democrats and supported by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The goal is to fight litter and lighten the load on landfills by getting shoppers to use reusable fabric bags. Those who don’t could buy paper bags for a nickel or more.

“I think the proliferation of plastic bags is unnecessary, and it’s a pollutant, an urban tumbleweed,” Democratic Assemblywoman Julia Brownley said of the lightweight bags that can litter yards and clog waterways.

Californians use about 19billion plastic bags a year, about 552 bags apiece, according to a legislative committee analysis of Brownley’s proposal, Assembly Bill 1998.

Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council said the plastic bag industry would rather pay to bolster recycling programs than ban plastic bags.

With California’s economy struggling, it makes no sense to jeopardize about 500 plastic-bag manufacturing jobs and to promote paper bags that produce more greenhouse gas during their lifecycle than plastic bags do, Shestek said.

Brownley said recycling programs have not fared well, attracting only a tiny percentage of plastic bags, so expanding them is impractical.

The crackdown on disposable bags would cost an estimated $1.5million the first year and $1million annually to launch, administer and enforce, payable from fees on makers of reusable bags.

AB 1998 was approved by the state Assembly this month on a party-line vote, 42-27, with Republicans opposed. It is pending in the Senate.

Schwarzenegger praised the bill when it cleared the lower house, calling it “a great victory for our environment.”

No state has restricted disposable bags, but some cities and foreign nations have.

Ireland shoppers pay 33 cents per plastic bag. San Francisco’s supermarkets and pharmacies are prohibited from providing plastic bags.

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