State muscles grocers over plastic bags

Aug. 21, 2012

Katy Grimes: The plastic bag activists are at it again, and they are nothing, if not persistent. With the eleventh bill regulating plastic bags in less than 10 years, grocery stores don’t have a chance in California.

Passed today by the Assembly, SB 1219, the latest plastic bag regulation bill, by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, will require grocery stores to implement, manage, and report on the “At-Store Recycling Program” to the Cal Recycle state agency.

Besides imposing more rules and regulations on privately-owned grocery stores, SB 1219 which appears to be aimed at large grocers like WalMart, Target and other large supermarket chains, will require that stores “place recycling bins in a readily accessible location for consumers, assure the collected bags are recycled, and provide reusable bags. Additionally, stores track the collection, transport, and recycling of plastic carryout bags and regulated manufacturers provide educational materials to assist in recycling (see requirements).”

This could be the work of a full-time employee in some large stores.

“This bill is a really, really bad idea,” Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, said on the Assembly floor during debate Tuesday. “Plastics manufacturers are leaving the state. And we’re telling grocery stores, ‘you must take back this product.'”

Assemblyman Brian Jones found irony in a bill specifying what stores must do to recycle, given that much of the purchased food and products put inside of the bags is packaged in plastic. “Is this the best use of our time?” Jones asked.

Specifically, SB 1219 will:

1)Requires stores, defined as supermarkets and stores over 10,000 square feet that include a pharmacy, to establish an at-store recycling program for plastic carryout bags. The
Program requires that:

a) Plastic bags provided by the store must have a label that encourages customers to return the bag for recycling;

b) Stores provide clearly labeled and easily accessible recycling bins;

c) All bags collected be recycled in a manner consistent with the local jurisdiction’s recycling plan;

d) Stores must maintain records relating to the Program for at least three years and make the records available to the local jurisdiction or the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) upon request; and,

e) Stores must make reusable bags available.

2)Requires bag manufacturers to develop educational materials to encourage source reduction and recycling and to make the materials available to stores.

3)Preempts local governments from requiring stores that are complying with the Program to implement separate bag recycling programs, additional auditing or reporting requirements, or
imposing a bag fee.

4)Authorizes a local government or the state to levy fines for stores that violate these requirements.

All of this was set to sunset on January 1, 2013, but SB 1219 will extend that sunset date until 2020.

This is the eleventh bill regulating plastic bags since passage of the first plastic bag law in California in 2006.

Should I reuse or litter?

The rap on plastic bags is that they end up lining street gutters, or in the oceans, rivers and lakes, or just flying around neighborhoods on windy days. The bill analysis states that 60-80 percent of all marine debris and 90 percent of floating debris is plastic. But several studies I’ve read say that while plastic shopping bags entering the marine environment represent a threat  to marine life along with other packaging and other littered items, it has not been quantified.

Who litters?

Who throws their garbage into rivers, lakes, oceans or on the street? I don’t know anyone who tosses the bags onto the street. But when I visit my neighborhood park, there are always plastic bags, food containers, wrappers, and plastic bottles discarded on the grass and around seating areas. In many of Sacramento’s low-income neighborhoods, and public schools, trash is strewn about, including plastic bags and bottles.

So who does the littering? Why go after the plastic bag manufacturers instead of the litterers?

My friends, neighbors and I reuse our plastic bags for garbage, changing kitty litter, for doggie-do bags, or a second time at the store. I used to use them as diaper discard bags when my son was a baby. There are numerous reuses for plastic bags, which most people take advantage of.

Donnelly said that he and his wife reuse plastic bags as garbage bags at home. The fact is that most consumers reuse the bags for something.

While numerous studies focus almost entirely on the cost to the consumer, they forget about the cost to the business, which is significant.

Jones was right when he said, “We should ask ourselves, are we really being efficient by forcing grocery stores to recycle plastic bags?”

“I think we ought to allow the free market to finally be free!” Donnelly said. “Grocery stores run on a thin margin, and can’t afford any more regulations.”

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