California leaders approve plastic bag ban after waste increase from earlier ban



California legislators in both chambers passed a pair of plastic shopping bag ban bills after an earlier ban on thin plastic bags increased overall plastic bag waste due to use of thicker, “reusable” plastic bags.

California’s single-use plastic shopping bag ban went into effect in 2016, but plastic bag waste increased 47% to 231,072 tons by 2022 as stores shifted to selling much heavier, thicker plastic bags to consumers for 10 cents each instead of providing thinner bags for free. Thus, while the ban was intended to reduce plastic waste, it had the effect of increasing the total amount of plastic bag waste through thicker bags. This ban would ban all plastic shopping bags starting on Jan. 1, 2026, and require that paper shopping bags be made with 50% recycled paper starting on Jan. 1, 2028.

“California’s original ban on plastic bags hasn’t worked out as planned, and sadly, the state’s plastic bag waste has increased dramatically since it went into effect,” said bill author state Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas, in a news release. “We need to do better. Shockingly, some 18 billion pounds of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year from coastal regions alone.”

Just 10 rivers worldwide are responsible for 93% of plastic entering the world’s oceans, eight of which are in Asia — mostly in China and India — and two of which are in Africa. Plastic bags, which take 1,000 years to decay, are a major source of microplastics building up in human tissues and causing a wide range of human health issues, such as endocrine, immune, reproductive, metabolic, and developmental disorders.

A new study published earlier this month found microplastics in all 23 tested human testicle samples. The majority of microplastics are produced from washing clothes that are made from plastic, synthetic fabrics and tires breaking off plastic during regular driving.

The ban is thus unlikely to have a major effect on global plastic pollution, though it may reduce plastic bag waste in California landfills and litter. California already has adopted a pending ban on non-compostable produce bags starting Jan. 1, 2025.

Business leaders warn that a plastic shopping bag ban could have negative consequences for businesses and communities already facing inflation and struggling with rising costs.

“There is no question that we all strive for cleaner, greener and healthier communities, but we must do so in a way that does not have affordability or accessibility consequences, especially for low-income, struggling families, seniors, and disadvantaged communities, often of color,” National Federation of Independent Business California Director John Kabateck told The Center Square. “The alternative is to do no harm: stop imposing unnecessary, unrealistic bans that are not backed by science or lack alternatives that already struggling Californians are equipped to accommodate.”

The pair of bills, formally known as Assembly Bill 2236 and Senate Bill 1053, have passed their respective chambers of origin and must pass the opposite chamber to head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

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