California Tried to Ban Plastic Grocery Bags. It Didn’t Work.
Almost a decade ago, California became the first state in the United States to ban single-use plastic bags in an effort to tackle an intractable plastic waste problem.
Then came the reusable, heavy-duty plastic bags, offered to shoppers for 10 cents. Designed to withstand dozens of uses, and technically recyclable, many retailers treated them as exempt from the ban.
But because they didn’t look much different from the flimsy bags they replaced, lots of people didn’t actually reuse them. And though they came emblazoned with a recycling symbol, it turned out that few, if any, actually were recycled.
The unhappy result: Last year, Californians threw away more plastic bags, by weight, than when the law first passed, according to figures from CalRecycle, California’s recycling agency.
Now, lawmakers are trying to fix that. A new bill seeks to ban all plastic bags offered at the checkout line, including the heavy duty kind. (Shoppers would still be able to pay for a paper bag.)
“It’s time for us to get rid of plastic bags all together,” said state Sen. Ben Allen, a Democrat and a sponsor of the bill.
By some accounts, California’s initial plastic bag ban was a well-meaning but failed experiment, an environmental rule that backfired and inadvertently made the matter worse. “We didn’t worry about the carve-out for these thicker bags in the early days,” said Mark Murray, director of Californians Against Waste, an advocacy group. “It just didn’t seem like they were going to be the thing that they ultimately became.”
Some advocates say the initial ban would have been effective if properly enforced. The ban, adopted in 2014, allowed for plastic bags to be sold to shoppers only if they were widely recycled in California.
Daniel Conway of the California Grocers Association said retailers had “followed the letter of the law.” He said he hoped new legislation would clear up any confusion that remained over the thicker bags.
“We see this as finishing what we started,” he said. “People are really starting to accept that they bring reusable bags with them when they go to the grocery store.”
文／Hiroko Tabuchi 譯／周辰陽