California Halts Plastic Bag Ban

Signed Into Law Last Fall

California Halts Plastic Bag BanA landmark ban on single-use plastic shopping bags was put on hold this week in California, after government officials formally announced that a trade group gathered enough signatures to prompt a voter referendum on the issue next year. The American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), which represents plastic bag manufacturers, submitted about 555,000 valid signatures – about 50,000 more than were needed to qualify for the referendum – after a random sample of the signatures was tallied, according to Bill Mabie, chief deputy for California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. The group had submitted more than 800,000 signatures at the end of last year.

California’s bag ban was signed into law last fall after a fierce legislative battle and was scheduled to be phased in this summer at large grocery stores and supermarkets as a way to cut down on litter. The ban was set to expand to convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. As a replacement for plastic bags, many stores are opting to offer reusable logoed totes, giving ad specialty companies greater selling opportunities.

The APBA has argued that the ban will cost manufacturing jobs and boost profits for grocers, who would be able to charge customers a premium for bags now given away for free.

“Delaying a piece of terrible legislation from taking effect is obviously something that everybody is looking on favorably,” said APBA spokesman Jon Berrier. “There will be a very significant voter education campaign as we move into 2016.”

Supporters of the ban, meanwhile, criticized manufacturers for spending millions of dollars on the referendum campaign “It’s not surprising that after spending more than $3.2 million, 98% of which is from out of state, the plastic bag industry has bought its way onto the California ballot to protect its profits,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

More than 100 cities and counties in California, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, already have bans on single-use bags, and several more local governments plan to move forward with their own ban as a result of the referendum. Plastic bags have been banned successfully in other U.S. cities as well, including Chicago, Seattle and Austin, TX. Hawaii is set to have a de facto statewide ban, with each county approving its own bag restrictions.