Bans on single-use plastic bags were pioneered in San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles and scores of other California municipalities because of the huge public cost of cleaning the bags out of storm drains, waterways and streets. But a state and ultimately a national ban are needed, and California should lead the way.
SB 270 on this year's docket is a testament to the persistence of Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, whose bill last year failed. Lawmakers and the governor should expedite this one so they can devote the rest of the spring to the tug of war over the state's revenue surplus.
Opponents of a ban on single-use bags have used the bogus argument that it would kill plastic bag manufacturing jobs. Sen. Kevin de Leon, soon to be Senate president pro tem, was skewered for pushing the job killer idea last year and accepting large contributions from the bag industry.
But de Leon and another previous opponent, Ricardo Lara of Long Beach, joined Padilla in introducing SB 270 in January. They touted the addition of a $2 million sweetener for manufacturers to retool and start making reusable bags.
It's a market shift that would have happened on its own — the industry must have spent more than $2 million opposing prior bans — but it's worth the money, considering how much communities will save if the bags go away.
The bill would stop their use at supermarkets starting in July 2015 and at smaller stores in July 2016; require stores to charge 10 cents for paper bags and require increased use of recycled material in reusable bags — at least 20 percent by 2016 and 40 percent by 2020.
The ban may still face opposition from the plastics lobby. But if they're smart, they'll retool, retrain and compete. The false choice between the environment and jobs has about worn itself out. Regulations like this close some economic doors but open others, often to more promising prospects.
As an example, Command Packaging in Vernon, with 300 employees, is shifting to make reusable bags out of plastic recycled from agriculture-industry use.
The state agency CalRecycle says the new bill would end the use of 13 billion single-use plastic bags a year, 95 percent of which are not recycled.
San Jose's bag ban reduced plastic bag litter 89 percent in storm drain systems, 60 percent in creeks and rivers and 59 percent in streets and neighborhoods, according to a 2012 survey. They are a big part of the trash that lines our freeways.
Local bans are saving cities and counties money and curbing pollution. Bringing washable and reusable bags can be annoying, but it's not hard once you've got the habit.
The Heartland will take awhile to convince. But when it comes to environmental advances, nothing happens unless California gets things rolling.