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California ban on plastic bags likely to become law

The proposals to end all plastic bags from grocery stores come a decade after the state banned single-use plastic bags

California is taking on plastic bag pollution — again. 

It’s been about a decade since state lawmakers eliminated single-use plastic bags from stores, but heavier, reusable plastic bags were still allowed. Two new proposals in the California General Assembly aim to put an end to that, too. 

Senate Bill 1053 and Assembly Bill 2236, authored by Sen. Catherine Blakespear, D-Encinitas, Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, and Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, D-Orinda, aim to eliminate all plastic bags from grocery stores and other businesses that sell food. 

Efforts to cut the distribution of plastic bags completely took a big step forward on May 21, with the State Senate and the State Assembly approving the two bills in their respective bodies. 

The legislation passed in 2014 allowed the use of heavier plastic bags because they were considered reusable, but they are difficult to recycle and were rarely reused, according to advocates for the new proposals. 

“If you have been paying attention — if you read the news at all in recent years — you know we are choking our planet with plastic waste,” Blakespear said in February when the bill was proposed. “A plastic bag has an average lifespan of 12 minutes and then it is discarded, often clogging sewage drains, contaminating our drinking water, and degenerating into toxic microplastics that fester in our oceans and landfills for up to 1,000 years.”

Blakespear added that CalRecycle, California's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, reported that grocery and merchandise bag disposal in the state jumped from 147,038 tons in 2004 to 231,072 tons in 2021.

The proposal has widespread support from lawmakers and industry organizations. 

In February, the California Grocers Association said it supports the proposals to eliminate plastic bags. 

“Consumers are calling for sustainable practices from California businesses, but still value a convenient shopping experience. This bill bridges the two to meet consumers where they are while demonstrating care for the environments in which our stores reside,” CGA President and CEO Ron Fong said when the bills were introduced.

If the bag ban becomes law, the change will be effective at the beginning of 2026. It would require that reusable bags sold at stores not be made from plastic film material. It would also require that paper bags be made from “a minimum of 50% postconsumer recycled materials on or after Jan. 1, 2028, without exception.”

Bauer-Kahan, author of the Assembly Bill, said the legislation also poses a challenge to pollution from oil companies. 

"Plastics are the next front in our fight against big oil. By 2050, plastic production will exceed 20% of global oil production," Bauer-Kahan said in a press release on May 21. "AB 2236 is a critical step to eliminate plastic pollution, and eliminates an opportunity for the oil industry to continue destroying our planet."

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