Plastic bag ban: Its time has come for California

By Bruce McPherson
Source: The Mercury News


plastic-bag1With more than 100 local jurisdictions in California that have banned single-use plastic bags, residents from all corners of our diverse state have spoken that they want to be part of an important global movement toward reusable bags.

Our Legislature has the opportunity, with SB 270 by state Sens. Alex Padilla, Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara, to provide uniformity for businesses and consumers who now must navigate a jumble of local ordinances.

Neither this bill nor the problems caused by flimsy, harmful plastic bags are unique to our state. Nations across the globe and counties and cities spanning the nation are eschewing single-use bags.

Dozens of groups from across political and social spectrums, from chambers of commerce and manufacturers to labor leaders and environmentalists, are coalescing in a rare show of solidarity.

The reason can be seen fluttering through our neighborhoods and littering our streets, parks and coastlines. Single-use plastic bags clog storm drains and cause costly stoppages at recycling plants. They pollute our waterways and pose a grave threat to marine and other wildlife that are trademarks of our magnificent coves and reefs.

Plastics are estimated to make up 60 to 80 percent all marine debris. They remain one of the top items found during beach cleanups.

In my hometown of Santa Cruz, Assemblyman Mark Stone and the organization Save our Shores have long led the drive to reduce marine waste and phase out plastic bags. Their efforts are to be applauded.

Our shores attract worldwide visitors, and our state is an incubator for cutting-edge research to protect natural resources, a key reason so many communities already have phased out single-use bags.

The Natural Resources Defense Council found that municipalities in California spend nearly $500 million to clean up garbage in storm drains and waterways. In 2013, Sacramento reported that its materials recovery facility shuts down six times a day to remove plastic from the machines. Those costs are siphoned away from other public services.

Moving toward reusable bags is yielding positive results across California. In San Jose, the city’s bag ban has reduced plastic bag litter 89 percent in storm drain systems, 60 percent in creeks and rivers and 59 percent in streets and neighborhoods.

The small faction opposing the state measure is bankrolled largely by Hilex Poly, a plastic bag maker based in South Carolina that has tried to block similar measures in dozens of cities and counties nationwide. But its unsubstantiated claims have yet to deter cities and counties from Alaska to New York.

Meanwhile, a coalition of labor leaders, environmental shepherds and grocery owners support SB 270 because it protects and creates jobs for Californians while improving the health of our natural resources.

The measure identifies $2 million for loans and grants to help California-based companies create jobs and produce innovative products. Forward-thinking companies already have created quality jobs in reusable manufacturing.

Extending plastic bag bans statewide will ignite even more job growth. Salinas-based Encore Recycling has said it will double its workforce in the heart of our working-class central state if SB 270 is signed into law.

California often has served as a bellwether for the nation. We can do that once again — creating a unified movement to protect natural resources while sparking job growth and innovation.

It’s time for the Legislature to get this done. Ridding our state of polluting plastic bags is not about partisan politics. Consumers, businesses and working families deserve a road map to walk hand-in-hand into a healthy future.