Set of bills aiming to eliminate thicker, plastic reusable bags from CA grocery stores advances

ByLena Howland KGO logo
Thursday, May 30, 2024
CA bills aiming to eliminate thicker, reusable plastic bags advance
An effort to ban the use of all plastic bags in grocery stores in California is moving forward.

ORINDA, Calif. -- An effort to ban the use of all plastic bags in grocery stores in California is moving forward.

AB 2236 and SB 1053, an identical set of bills, passed each House on May 21 with bipartisan support.

Lawmakers now have until the end of August to pass one of the bills. Only one needs to pass in order to go to Governor Newsom's desk for final approval.

This would strengthen an existing ban that first took effect around 10 years ago.

Nearly a decade has passed since California made history as the first state in the country to ban single-use plastic bags.

"We just know that the law isn't working," Jenn Engstrom, State Director of CALPIRG said.

MORE: Can heavy-duty plastic bags really be reused as many times as industry says? ABC7 puts them to test

The plastic industry claims these heavy-duty plastic bags can be reused up to 125 times. So ABC7 News put them to the test.

Engstrom, State Director of the California Public Interest Research Group, worked on the original plastic bag ban.

She says, while plastic waste did go down for a while, the pandemic changed everything.

"People were getting a little nervous about bringing in their own bags, and then we just saw this resurgence of plastic in our stores and that's when we really saw these thicker plastic bags show up in large numbers," she said.

A loophole in the law allowed grocery stores to continue selling thicker plastic bags considered to be "reusable" for at least 125 times.

It's something ABC7's Lyanne Melendez put to the test last year.

"The reality is that people are not really reusing them so they're ending up as trash," Engstrom said.

According to data from CalRecycle, the amount of plastic bags discarded per person increased.

It reached an all-time high in 2021 with more than 230,000 tons thrown away statewide.

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan of Orinda is working on one of the two identical bills aiming to change that.

"We are moving to 100% paper bags in grocery stores in 2026," Bauer-Kahan said.

MORE: CA to start phasing out single-use plastic bags used for meat and produce: Here's why

A big change is in the works for California grocery stores. The single-use plastic bags used for produce or meat are by law being phased out.

She was inspired to ban the use of the thicker "reusable" bags in grocery stores by her teenage son.

"We live along the beautiful creeks of Orinda and we have a grocery store right on the creek and he started to notice that in our nature areas, the trash and the bags from the grocery store are ending up in our waterways and we would see it," she said.

Though the companies that make these plastic bags oppose this effort.

The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance says "bans force stores and shoppers to switch to other products that are more expensive... with food prices continuing to climb from near-record inflation, these increased costs will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices."

If passed, shoppers will still have a paper option.

But it will also cost about a dime and they'll have to be made of at least 50 percent postconsumer recycled material.

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