Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Onetime foes now back statewide plastic bag ban

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Two Los Angeles-area state senators who previously opposed a statewide ban on single use plastic bags announced Friday they would support a new version of the bill because it would  preserve local manufacturing jobs.

At an event staged at a South L.A. plastic bag factory, Los Angeles Democratic senators Kevin De Leon and Ricardo Lara said they would co-author SB 270 with Senator Alex Padilla.

Padilla's earlier version of the bag ban fell three votes short of Senate approval last year. De Leon, Lara and two other Democratic senators abstained the vote because they feared loss of jobs in local bag factories.

De Leon and Lara both represent parts of Vernon, home of Command Packaging, one of the large manufacturers that had led a coalition of bag makers opposing the ban.

Flanked by factory workers, de Leon called the compromise a win for the environment, for the manufacturing industry in California, and "a win that preserves and quite potentially expands real jobs."

A major change in the new bill that drew de Leon's and Lara's support is a provision dedicating $2 million in California recycling funds to subsidize purchases of new equipment and retraining of employees at plants such as Command Packaging. The bill also sets requirements for reusable plastic bags to eventually contain 40 percent post-consumer recycled materials.

Lara said the bill's provisions to retrain workers and retool plants were essential to his support:  "As we continue to see our economy get better, we cannot forget that manufacturing is key to making California strong."

If passed into law, the bill would ban single-use plastic bags at grocery stores, pharmacies and liquor stores throughout California in 2015. Stores could provide paper bags or reusable plastic bags at 10 cents each.

Padilla said that with de Leon and Lara's support the bill had enough support to pass the Senate, but  he added, "We can't take our Assembly colleagues for granted. We still have some work to do."

Padilla said he did not know who in the Assembly would sponsor parallel legislation, but he said he expected it to pass because similar bills previously had passed the Assembly.

Pete Grande, CEO of Command Packaging, said he and de Leon had met last year to discuss how they might both support the objective of Padilla's bill without losing jobs at the Vernon plant.

Grande said his company would shift its production to recycling plastic used in agricultural fields to create reusable bags that would meet state standards and that could themselves be recycled into new bags. Some 100 tons of agricultural plastic film is dumped into landfills each year, de Leon said.

Statewide plastic bag bans failed to pass in 2010 and 2012, but support has since grown for local and regional bans. Many California cities passed laws barring stores from providing single-use plastic bags. Los Angeles, the largest city to have done so, imposed its ban at the beginning of this year.

About 90 California cities ban plastic bags, including Long Beach, Pasadena and Huntington Beach. Unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County have also banned the bag. San Francisco was an early adopter of the ban, passing its law in 2007.

Plastic bag manufacturers and others have challenged bans in court using various arguments, but time after time, the local bans have been upheld. The bag industry had argued in one case that the 10-cent charge for a paper bag was a tax that would need to be approved by voters, but that was not upheld. Just last month, San Francisco's expanded ban withstood a challenge from the plastic bag industry in the appeals court.


Q: I already live in a city that bans plastic bags. How would a new state bag ban affect me?

A: You would see little difference. Businesses would have to comply with the state ban, but cities could pass their own rules that are more restrictive, but not less.

Q: I live in a city where I can get a single-use plastic bag. What will change for me?

A: If the bill becomes law, sometime in 2015, stores that sell grocery, pharmacy and liquor products will stop packing your purchases in single-use bags. You bring your own bags, or you buy paper or reusable plastic bags at a dime each.

Q: What if I get my groceries at Target or Walmart, that sell many other types of goods?

A: Stores that sell groceries, liquor and pharmacy products would have to honor the single-use bag ban. Similar bans are already in place at such stores in some cities, and it's not uncommon to see the store recycle its boxes by offering them to customers to pack groceries and other products.

Q: What's next? How likely is this to happen?

A: Senator Alex Padilla says the bill has enough support to pass the Senate. A parallel version must pass the Assembly and the governor would have to sign it to become law.



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