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California lawmakers move closer to banning multiuse plastic bags

Both chambers of the California legislature voted in favor of legislation last week that would ban grocery stores and other retailers from giving multiuse plastic bags to customers.

Under the legislation, stores would still be able to offer paper bags or plastic bags that are made of at least 50% post-consumer recycled materials and for a 10-cent fee. In the state Senate, SB 1053 passed 31-7, and AB 2236 passed in the state Assembly 51-7. Now both bills will head to the opposite chamber to be voted on.

Single-use plastic bags are currently banned in California, but this legislation targets multiuse plastic bags, which have replaced single-use bags. The author of the senate bill, Democratic state Sen. Catherine Blakespear, said in a statement that the current ban on single-use plastic bags in California is not doing enough.

“We need to do better. Shockingly, some 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions alone. California must do its part to eliminate this scourge that is contaminating our environment,” Blakespear said.

The Assembly bill’s author, Democratic Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, cited the oil industry as the reason for the bill.

“Plastics are the next front in our fight against Big Oil. By 2050, plastic production will exceed 20% of global oil production,” Bauer-Kahan said in a statement. “AB 2236 is a critical step to eliminate plastic pollution, and eliminates an opportunity for the oil industry to continue destroying our planet.”

The bill is supported by environmental groups such as the Ocean Conservancy and the Sierra Club, as well as the grocery giant Kroger’s and the California Grocers Association. The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, however, put out a statement in opposition to the bill.

“Passing this bill would likely trigger increased plastic use through the implementation of (non-woven polypropylene) bags (as happened in New Jersey), eliminate the use of 183 million pounds of recycled content in California each year, exacerbate our carbon footprint, and significantly raise costs for working families,” the group said in a statement.

New Jersey banned paper single-use plastic bags in 2020, but the decision could have had adverse effects on the state’s carbon impact. According to the Institute for Energy Research, “Plastic consumption went from 53 million pounds of plastic before the ban to 151 million pounds following the ban” in New Jersey.

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Because multiuse plastic bags are heavier and use more plastic to be made in the hope the durability will increase the number of times they are used, “greenhouse gas emissions rose [in New Jersey] 500 percent compared to the old bags in 2015.”

The California bills will be reconciled between both chambers and sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D-CA) desk for his signature. If signed, the ban would go into effect Jan. 1, 2026.

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