Plastic bags are banned again in California as COVID-19 order expires

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Heads up, grocery shoppers: Single-use plastic bags are banned once again in California.

Two months ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order to put a 60-day pause on California's single-use plastic bag ban, citing grocers' concerns that reusable bags might foster the spread of COVID-19. The law, passed by voters in 2016, banned grocery stores and restaurants from providing single-use plastic bags to customers. Businesses could still offer recycled paper bags at a fee of at least 10 cents per bag.

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"Before the single-use plastic bags ban, billions of bags polluted California's waterways, streets and coastlines," said Erin Curtis, spokesperson for CalEPA. "The governor's order in March temporarily suspended the ban as a cautionary measure to protect front-line retail workers in a time of uncertainty. With the temporary suspension now expired, California is supporting responsible actions to sustainably protect both our health and our environment."

As the coronavirus pandemic swept California, many grocers also asked shoppers to stop bringing in reusable bags, and instead offered disposable ones for free.

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"The discontinued use of reusable bags at many California retailers has resulted in a severe shortage of recycled paper bags and the temporary return of single-use plastic bags by some retailers," said Mark Murray with environmental group Californians Against Waste. "The quick return to the practice of bringing reusable bags will reduce an unnecessary source of plastic pollution, reduce grocery costs for stores and consumers, and relieve the shortage of recycled paper bags."

Now, with the return of the plastic bag ban, grocers and other businesses have a couple options. They can choose to allow for the use of reusable bags. Stores may ask customers who bring in reusable bags to bag their own groceries, per Cal/OSHA guidelines.

Others may continue to offer recycled paper bags or thicker plastic bags, which are exempt from the state's ban because they're considered reusable. However, they are once again required by law to start charging 10 cents for each of those bags.

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