US: Plastic bag ban stalls in California amid manufacturers' opposition

Aaron Mendelson PlanetArk 27 Aug 14;

Prospects are dimming for a ban on plastic grocery bags in California, as the legislative session winds down and supporters remain three votes short of a majority in the face of strong opposition from manufacturers.

A number of cities in California and other states, including Hawaii's Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack consumer purchases in plastic. But at the state level, support has generally crumbled because of opposition from plastic bag makers. California's ban, if it passes, would be the first such statewide measure.

"Clearly we have our work cut out for us," said the bill's author, Democratic state Senator Alex Padilla. He backed a similar bill last year, which also failed by three votes.

The measure would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use grocery bags with customers' purchases, and would provide money to local plastic bag companies to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags that customers could purchase.

It failed in the State Assembly on Monday by three votes, but lawmakers could bring it back if Padilla can muster the votes before this year's session ends on Sunday night.

Environmentalists have pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, could cause injury to ocean life.

After the defeat of his earlier bill, Padilla won the support of some California based bag makers by including the funding for retooling. But in recent months, out-of-state manufacturers have campaigned against the bill, even producing television ads targeting Padilla, who is running for secretary of state.

Cathy Browne, general manager at Crown Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in Huntington Park, California, said the bill would lead to layoffs at companies like hers.

A labor union representing workers at plastic bag manufacturing plants also came out against the bill in recent days.

More than 10 billion plastic bags are used in California each year, estimates Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group supporting the bill.

(Reporting by Aaron Mendelson in San Francisco; Editing by Sharon Bernstein and Peter Cooney)