California’s Plastic-Bag Ban up in the Air After Groups Spend Big

Months after the passage of SB 270, which banned the distribution of plastic bags at California grocery stores, trade groups opposing the bill say they've gathered the signatures needed to put the issue up to a statewide vote.

California’s plastic-bag ban, which was passed into law in September, may not have a long life ahead of it.

Last week, supporters of a ballot initiative meant to overturn SB 270 said that they’ve gathered 800,000 signatures in support of the initiative—more than enough to put the issue to a vote. If California’s secretary of state approves more than 504,760 of those signatures, the law, which is scheduled to go into effect July 1, will be put on hold. The ballot initiative is expected to be voted on in November 2016, keeping the status quo in place until then.

Spearheading the effort is the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), an industry coalition led by the plastics industry trade group SPI. The group provided most of the $3 million used in gathering signatures.

“SB 270 was never a bill about the environment. It was a back-room deal between the grocers and union bosses to scam California consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees without providing any public benefit,” APBA Executive Director Lee Califf said in a statement. “We are pleased to have reached this important milestone in the effort to repeal a terrible piece of job-killing legislation, and look forward to giving California voters a chance to make their voice heard at the ballot box in 2016.”

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), another key critic of the bill—which also requires retailers to charge 10 cents each for recycled paper bags—supported APBA’s initiative.

“Paper bags are a sustainable packaging option for consumers, and we support Californians’ right to make the final decision on SB 270,” said AF&PA Group Vice President Cathy Foley.

Supporters: Don’t Bag It

Environmental groups painted the campaign to overturn the ban as an attempt by out-of-state interests to drive California policy.

“Virtually all of the plastic bags sold in California are produced by just three out-of-state corporations,” Mark Murray, executive director of California vs. Big Plastic, wrote in a statement. “And these corporations and their chemical suppliers have made it clear that they will do and say anything, and pay any price, to continue to sell plastic bags into California.”

The California Grocers Association, which supported the passage of SB 270, hasn’t publicly taken a stance on the referendum. But it disputes APBA’s portrayal of the legislation as a “back-room deal,” saying it supported the law for practical reasons.

“It has always been the retailers’ contention it is better to have a statewide law rather than a patchwork of local ordinances,” CGA spokesman Dave Heylen told the Visalia Times-Delta.

(David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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