California Becomes First State to Ban Free Plastic Shopping Bags

California is now the first U.S. state to officially prohibit stores from handing plastic shopping bags  for free as a result of  a bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown .  “This bill is a step in the right direction…it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself.” Brown said in a statement.  “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

While the ban is a victory for environmentalist who say the millions of plastic bags that are handed out each year end up in waterways and landfills, the national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers immediately said it would seek a voter referendum to replace the law which is scheduled to take effect in July 2015, according npr.org.

Manufacturers feel that the ban is misguided and will cost American jobs.  “If this law were allowed to go into effect, it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets.” Lee Califf, executive director of the manufacturer trade group, said in a statement.

Senator Alex Padilla, the bill’s author, said Californians would reject a referendum effort and quickly adapt their behavior to help the environment.  “For those folks concerned about the 10 cent fee that may be charged for paper, the simple elegant solution is to bring a reusable bag to the store,” Padilla said.

Shoppers leaving a Ralph’s supermarket Tuesday in downtown San Diego were divided as they weighed the legislation’s environment benefits against costs, according to CNN. “With the amount of waste that we produce, we can try to help out by slightly inconveniencing ourselves,” said Megan Schenfeld, 29, whose was carrying her groceries out in plastic bags after forgetting her reusable bags.

However, Robert Troxell, a retired newspaper editor, said the fees are more than an inconvenience for retirees living on fixed incomes.  “It becomes a flat tax on senior citizens,” said Troxell, who lives off social security.

The American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group representing paper bag makers, said the bill unfairly penalizes consumers who use their commonly recycled products, while holding reusable plastic bags to a lower standard for recyclable content, reported NPR.

The new law going into effect for large grocery chains and pharmacies beginning July 1,2015 while convenience stores and liquor stores have until July 1, 2016.  Stores will be allowed to phase out plastic gags over a six month period and then provide free paper bags for another six months.  “BYE BYE PLASTIC!”  reported the LA Times.