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Move afoot to ban plastic bags

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POSTED May 14, 2014 8:07 p.m.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — A bill to make California the first in the nation to impose a statewide ban on plastic bags at certain retailers passed a key legislative committee on Wednesday, but the legislation faces staunch opposition from bag manufacturers working to stem a flood of local bans meant to end clutter in landfills and beaches.

Senate Bill 270 passed the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee on a 5-3 vote following the failure of similar bans on single-use grocery bags in recent years. The latest legislation won support from grocers for including a 10-cent fee on paper bags and from a handful of local plastic bag makers for including $2 million for worker training and assistance to shift to production of reusable bags.

“It will prove that having a greener economy and cleaner environment is not mutually exclusive with the preservation of jobs,” said state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, a bill co-author along with Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles.

California, Massachusetts and Washington have considered statewide plastic bag bans this year to protect water and parks from a buildup of litter, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Those efforts follow the lead of municipalities, including San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Jose, that have such bans in place. Bill supporters say one statewide prohibition on single-use bags and one set of standards for reusable bags would make it easier for California businesses to follow the law.

A national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers has taken its fight to television, airing ads against the legislation. The group calls it a money grab by grocers and says it threatens 2,000 jobs in the state.

“The last thing I ever expected was for our product to become such a politically charged issue and one that would lead to public policy creating millions of dollars of profit from consumers and transferring that profit to retailers,” Cathy Browne, general manager of Los Angeles-area plastic bag maker Crown Poly, told lawmakers.

She said the $2 million in assistance for manufacturers wouldn’t replace even a single production line for her company alone.

Manufacturers and some grocers have pushed for states to adopt a plastic bag recycling program at stores instead of a ban, as California did in 2006.

The Associated Press found the state wasn’t tracking how many bags were recycled even as stores filed annual reports. The state’s last review of the data, in 2009, found a 3 percent recycling rate, up 1 percentage point from the previous year.

The bill heads next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee and must pass both chambers of the Legislature by the end of August.

If signed into law, the ban would take effect in 2015 for large retailers and grocery stores and apply to pharmacies and liquor stores the next year.

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