California’s Bag Ban: A Wealth Transfer from Customers to Big Grocers

In 2014, the California State Legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, Senate Bill 270, a statewide ban on plastic bags scheduled to take effect in July 2015. Before this bill passed, many California counties and municipalities enacted their own plastic bag bans with little fanfare. However, upon reading SB 270, the public discovered that it would line the pockets of grocers at the expense of consumers. Opponents gathered enough signatures to place the ban before voters in two November 2016 referenda, delaying the effective date of the new law and potentially altering or voiding it. In a progressive state like California, what delayed environmentalists’ dream?

About SB 270 (2014). SB 270 prohibits most stores from providing single-use plastic carryout bags to customers, with specified exceptions, such as produce and dry cleaning bags. As an alternative, stores could distribute compostable (paper) bags to consumers at a cost of not less than 10 cents per bag. Grocers would keep the fee as compensation for compliance costs.

Opposition to Plastic Bag Bans. Many groups oppose bans on plastic bags. Manufacturers of plastic bags fear the loss of domestic jobs — most plastic bags are made in the United States. Some consumer groups lament the loss of consumers’ freedom to choose the type of bag they wish to use.

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