California Legislation Introduced to Ban Plastic Shopping Bags

shutterstock_766364It is often said–and accurately so–that what begins in California frequently spreads to other states, whether cuisine, fashion or legal trends.  But to understand how the seeds of legal change are germinated even before coming to fruition in Sacramento, one must look to the city council halls of a few key California metropolitan area where some truly crazy ideas often take root.  Such is the case of that great scourge of our country reflective of one of the top crises in our society.  No, not our national or state budget deficits, our tax system or crime rates; I’m speaking of course of . . . wait for it . . . plastic grocery bags.

For the last few years, the trendiest cities of California–where most beautiful Californians live and work–have been banning plastic grocery bags.  I am aware of at least one case in which the District Attorney is prosectuing a plastic trash bag manufacturer with the zeal one might expect of a U.S. Attorney shutting down a drug dealer.

Things have worked out so well for the folks in LA, Santa Monica, Pasadena on a local level, that Sacramento is going to likely extend this ban statewide.  As the Los Angeles Times reports:

State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) has introduced legislation that would prohibit large retail stores throughout California from providing single-use carryout bags to customers starting in 2015. Starting in July 2016, the ban would extend to convenience food stores, food marts and other smaller businesses under SB 405.

Stores would be able to sell recycled paper bags, compostable bags or reusable bags to customers. In Los Angeles paper bags are available for 10 cents each.

The idea of having a state law on the subject was welcomed by Ron Fong, president and chief executive of the California Grocers Assn., who stopped short of endorsing the specific bill.

“Our industry supports efforts to achieve a statewide solution to single-use carryout bag regulation in California,” Fong said. “With a patchwork of more than 60 local ordinances, compliance becomes a challenge for grocery retailers, and consumers become confused about their options at the check stand.”

Mr. Fong’s response is right on.  As overly zealous city councils begin legislating on issues far beyond what has been the historical role of the local goverment (e.g., zoning, traffic and the like), compliance with all of the new creative regulations becomes a nightmare.  It is not difficult to imagine a grocery store chain’s compliance challenge in using one type of grocery bag in Santa Monica, for example, and implementing another policy a few miles away. If one must adapt to these new changes, it is far better to have a statewide regulatory scheme to consider than the “patchwork” of various local regulations (as Mr. Fong observes). As my texting kids like to say, “SMH”–“shaking my head.”

In the interest of giving equal time on this issue, I should add that Californians Against Waste claims that ocal taxpayers pay an estimated $96.7 million dollars annually to manage plastic bags on streets.  Here is a copy of the bill.