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How voters can save California’s plastic bag ban

A Raley’s store in Sacramento offers reusable bags for 10 cents. Sacramento and other cities banned single-use plastic bags, but bag makers are trying to overturn a statewide ban with Propositions 65 and 67. To read previous arguments for and against other ballot measures, go to sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed.
A Raley’s store in Sacramento offers reusable bags for 10 cents. Sacramento and other cities banned single-use plastic bags, but bag makers are trying to overturn a statewide ban with Propositions 65 and 67. To read previous arguments for and against other ballot measures, go to sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed. Sacramento Bee file

Two deceptive measures on California’s Nov. 8 ballot would kill the statewide law banning throwaway plastic bags and would punish grocers who support the ban.

Bag makers from Texas, South Carolina and New Jersey are spending millions promoting the measures.

Proposition 67 would repeal the law approved by the Legislature in 2014 banning nonbiodegradable bags given out by grocers, large pharmacies and convenience stores. The referendum was written so that a “yes” vote is needed to keep the law in place – a deliberate attempt to confuse voters.

Proposition 65 would force grocers to give up revenue from the 10-cent fee on reusable plastic or paper bags available to shoppers who don’t bring their own bags to the store. It deserves a “no” vote.

Implementation of the statewide law has been held up by the challenge mounted by the out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers. Yet more than 150 California cities and counties already have bag bans in place that would not be affected if Proposition 67 repeals the law.

The Sacramento City Council unanimously passed a ban, which was modeled on the state law and has been in place since January. Sacramento County followed suit with a ban in unincorporated areas of the county as of July 1. Prior to the bans, 34.5 million plastic bags were being handed out in the city and county each month. Only 5 percent of those bags were being recycled.

The bans have broad support since the transition from throwaway bags has caused little inconvenience for shoppers. There is less plastic littering our highways, streets, parks, school grounds, rivers and streams. Many fewer bags are clogging storm drains and ending up in our landfills where they can take a century or more to decompose.

Bits of plastic waste infiltrate the food chain and are ingested by fish, turtles, otters and beavers. Birds mistake plastic pieces for food or swallow plastic while feeding on dead fish. If a bird’s gut fills with plastic, it will starve to death. Huge volumes of plastic eventually wash out to sea where a recent study found that 90 percent of seabirds have swallowed plastic.

By some estimates, more than 30 billion plastic bags were being distributed in California each year before the first local ban was enacted in San Francisco in 2007. Today, it’s estimated that only as many 13.8 billion bags are being handed out.

That is a huge reduction that has improved our environment. But there are other benefits. Plastic bags are made from polyethylene derived from natural gas that is extracted along with petroleum. The annual production of plastic bags uses the equivalent of 1.2 million barrels of oil.

The benefits will increase once the statewide law is in force. Don’t let the bag makers kill this important law.

Stephen Green is president of Save the American River Association and wrote this viewpoint on behalf of the Yes on Proposition 67 campaign. He can be contacted at gsg444@sbcglobal.net.

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