Paper or plastic: What will it cost you?

January 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Oakland's ban on plastic bags was supposed to take effect Friday, but a court challenge has it on hold. For some state lawmakers it's not enough to have cities pushing this environmental effort. What's happening in Sacramento could change the way you shop.

The environmental group, Californians Against Waste, says residents of the golden state use 19 billion plastic bags a year, many of which end up as litter or in landfills. While the number should lessen because of increased recycling sites, one Southern California lawmaker wants to go further by imposing a fee on shoppers of as much as 15-cents a bag to reduce use.

"I think if people quit using plastic bags, it'd be better on the environment, but 15-cents is a lot for one bag," says Todd Noste, a shopper.

IKEA already does it, charging five cents a bag which encourages many customers to bring in their own reusable bag. However, one major chain isn't enough.

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine's proposal forces more stores to reduce the number of plastic bags they give out -- 35-percent by 2011 and 70-percent by 2013.

"I think we can. Just encourage people to use the recycled ones, or their own bags, carry those, instead of the plastic ones," says Avtar Dodd, a market owner.

If stores don't meet those reduction goals, they have to either stop giving out plastic bags or charge customers up to 15-cents a piece.

"We have over 250 species that have been affected by plastic bag waste. It's a significant environmental problem. The plastic bags that we use every day take about 4,000 barrels of oil just to produce those plastic bags," says Democratic Assemblyman Levine.

Local governments keep the fee for anti-littering programs. Still, some shoppers say they probably won't change their behavior, even for a good cause.

"I'm forgetful. I have a lot on my plate and the last thing I'm going to remember is to bring a grocery bag," says Amber Bernhard, a shopper.

While it's still just a proposal, Levine points out litter collection of trash like plastic bags costs the state $300 million a year.