Voters to decide on statewide plastic bag ban

Of the 17 statewide propositions on California's ballot, two relate to plastic bags.

This November, California voters will finally decide whether we'll become the first state in the nation to ban plastic bags at many stores. But the plastic bag industry is not going down without a fight.

If both Propositions 65 and 67 pass, there will be a bag ban, but what happens to the bag "fees" depends on which measure gets the most votes.

Two years ago many Californians thought we were saying good bye to the common plastic bag.

The state legislature voted to ban what are known as single-use plastic carry-out bags, the kind used for years at the checkout counter.

Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill, but before it went into law the plastic bag industry delayed it by collecting signatures and getting it on next month's ballot.

Proposition 67 is the same law the legislature already passed, but now voters have to OK it too. And even if they do ban the bags critics say the industry made a lot of money off the delay.

"They basically saved themselves $170 million in plastic bag sales by postponing the law over the course of the last 18 months," said Mark Murray of Californians Against Waste.

Environmental groups are eager to get the ban in place. They say lightweight plastic bags blow all over, spreading litter and ending up in waterways where they are a serious threat to wildlife.

"We might use that bag for the 10 minutes it takes us to get groceries from the store to our home. That bag can persist as pollution in the environment for decades and decades to come," Murray said.

San Francisco was the first city to pass a bag ban nine years ago. Now almost 150 California cities and counties have some type of ban - including Sacramento where a ban just went into effect in July and is already having an impact.

"Before the bag ban, we were going through approximately 1,700 bags per day. And that's been reduced to around 375 per day," said Stacie Larkin of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.

Prop 67 would make the plastic bag ban statewide. It would apply to most grocery stores, convenience stores, large pharmacies and liquor stores.

The type of plastic bags commonly used for fruits and vegetables "would" be allowed - but not the thin carry-out type.

Stores could "sell" recycled paper bags and re-usable bags, but they have to charge at least 10 cents to encourage people to bring their own bags. The plastic bag industry says their product is being unfairly targeted.

"Ninety percent of these bags are made in the United States from domestic natural gas," said Jon Berrier of the American Progressive Bag Alliance. "They are highly reused. They are 100 percent recyclable. And this industry is looking out not only for the jobs it supports across the country and in the state of California, but also for consumers who shouldn't be affected by a special interest deal in Sacramento."

The industry claims the 10-cent fee charged for paper and re-usable bags will mean big money for grocery stores. They are sponsoring another initiative, Proposition 65, that would require those fees be used for the environment.

"An independent analysis has been done that this will produce over $300 to $400 million per year in new profits for large grocers across California," Berrier said.

That independent analysis was funded by the plastic bag industry. The grocery industry says the bag fee just allows them to cover costs and is not a money maker, especially if people bring their own bags.

If both propositions 65 and 67 pass there will be a bag ban, but what happens to the bag fees depends on which measure gets the most votes.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney
Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.