In just a month, California voters will decide if the state’s ban on plastic bags will take effect. In 2014, Senate Bill 270 was passed by the California State Legislator and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown creating a ban on plastic bags. That ban was put on hold, however, as petitioners gathered enough signatures take it to the voters this November. Prop 67 will allow voters to decide whether the state ban continues as originally planned or is repealed altogether. Prop 65 will affect how the paper bag fees will be directed should the ban go into effect as scheduled. Residents will vote on whether revenue will stay with the retailers or will be contributed to environmental programs in the state.
If Prop 67 passes, stores are to provide paper bags or thicker reusable bags for consumers at a cost of no less than 10 cents per bag. The sole reason grocers and retailers support the ban, is that they get to keep the proceeds as compensation for compliance costs, unless of course, Prop 65 passes, which would redirect the revenue to state environmental programs. Otherwise, retailers stand to make a handsome profit, estimated at $442 million in annual revenue. This is shaping up as yet another example of the government picking winners – in this case, the retailers. The losers? Consumers, as this mandated transfer of wealth would go from shoppers’ wallets to big grocers.
Studies on similar bans in San Jose, Santa Monica, and unincorporated parts of Los Angeles county show incredible results. Before the bans in these cities and counties, paper bags had a 3 percent market share; now the compostable bags have 16 percent. Reusable bags have also seen huge market share increases, from 5 percent before the bans to 45 percent after the bans. Of course, these numbers do not even touch on the matter of an individual’s liberty to choose which type of bag he or she prefers.
Even if the ban of plastic bags is repealed, there will be predictable, negative unintended consequences. As analyst Mark Simpson points out, if the repeal of the ban fails in November, 24.5 million people in California will be transitioned to paper bag use overnight. He says “store managers will go to bed on Tuesday not knowing what bags they need to provide their customers on Wednesday.” Most paper bag producers are already at capacity and sold out for the August to December time period – a major issue during a time period when holidays abound and shopping tends to increase. A fair question becomes, where will all these bags come from? Even assuming the bags are available, Gayle Putrich doubts that the ban will even have the desired effect and suggests that most consumers are willing to pay for the thicker, plastic reusable bags, which would be allowed under the ban. As seen with similar bans, the decrease in consumption of plastic bags is only slight. SB 270 could create a mess for regulators, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers – and it may take a long time to clean up.
Dillon Lehr is a NCPA blog contributor.