California, the nation’s most populous state and a hotbed of political and social activism, has taken a step many felt was long overdue: It has outlawed the use of plastic shopping bags across the state, citing environmental and other concerns. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law September 30, 2014, making California the first state to enact such a ban.
“This bill is a step in the right direction — it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” said Brown. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”
According to the provisions of this new law, stores will have to use recycled paper bags or bags made from compostable material since it breaks down easily. The cost per bag will be at least 10 cents and will be charged to the consumer. Citizens using California’s food assistance program will be exempt from the added expense, but everyone else will have to pay. The idea is that, with the added cost per shopping trip, consumers will find it more economical to switch to reusable bags and many will likely make the change, just to save a little money. This will serve to cut waste even further.
Plastic bags have been around since the 1970’s. They were embraced by the public very quickly due to their strength, resistance to tearing, and ease of handling. But plastic bags have always had their critics and environmentalists and others consider California’s ban on plastic bag a win for the environment and for citizens. The environment wins because there will be less plastic clogging up landfills. Citizens will win, according to proponents of the law, because they will not have to deal with the unsightly and sometimes dangerous problem of plastic bags littering beaches, rivers, lakes, etc.
Of course, there are those who oppose the measure. Opposition is based mainly on economics and some of the concerns do make sense. For one, critics charge that the ban will lead to loss of jobs by those who work in the plastics business. Critics also claim the law will be hard on struggling families, many of which are already nickel and diming their way from one day to the next and cannot afford any additional costs added to their shopping bill, even if it is only 10 cents per bag.
Here at Money Saving Parent headquarters, we support using reusable bags for shopping or, as an alternative, using recyclable paper bags. But we are not so sure we would support an outright ban of plastic bags for many of the reasons stated above. Encouraging consumers to purchase reusable bags and offering incentives to do so would be a better approach. This approach has, in fact, already been used in different parts of the country with a fair degree of success.
California’s ban on plastic bags isn’t immediate. Retail grocery stores and pharmacies will be obligated to follow the new law once it goes into effect on July 1, 2015. Convenience stores and liquor stores will have a little longer to comply- they can continue to use plastic until July 1, 2016. This gives retailers a minimum of 9 months to prepare and make the necessary changes before the law takes effect.
Ridding the nation of plastic bags would help the environment and it would have other advantages, but is passing a law the only way to achieve this goal? Do you think other states will follow California’s lead and enact similar bans? Is this a good idea, or does it go too far?
Copyright 2014, Bryan Carey