California Plastic Bag Ban Holds in Proposition 67

Sergei Poljak |
Cotton reusable grocery bags, like those above, are most popular with shoppers. Photo: Star Tribune
Cotton reusable grocery bags, like those above, are increasingly popular with shoppers. Photo: Star Tribune

On Nov. 8th, 2016, California voters voted for Proposition 67, effectively banning non-reusable plastic bags from grocery stores. While bags will still be available, they will cost at least 10 cents and will be thicker and more conducive to reuse. The new law is mainly designed to encourage people to reuse their bags, and to eliminate the traditional flimsy bags that often end up caught in trees, fences, sewers, or worse, various waterways and the ocean.

Grocery Bag pileup in San Diego, CA. Photo: Earl S. Cryer/ZUMA Press
Grocery Bag pileup in San Diego, CA. Photo: Earl S. Cryer/ZUMA Press

While reusable bags have become increasingly popular, debate about them is growing, and not just from the the plastics industry. Some in the green movement are decrying consumers unfailing ability to forget the bags, causing them to buy more or use traditional bags. Similarly, others have cited the energy consumption in producing a reusable bag. The UK Environment Agency calculated that it takes 131 uses of a cotton reusable bag, like those most often used, to save energy over traditional plastic bags. It’s easy to see that many bags are lost, forgotten, ripped or otherwise indisposed before fulfilling their energy debt. Some consumers, like Daniel Poffenberger, 21, of Ontario, CA, are unhappy as well:

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think for people that are middle class, I don’t think it’s right. We pay a good amount of taxes as it is. We shouldn’t be getting charged for stupid, petty things like that. It’s just not fair.”

Proponents acknowledge this, but prefer the benefits of reusable bags and see it as a fair tradeoff. Firstly, reusable bags are not littered about the same way as plastic bags, which tend to collect and converge and stick like old leaves. Except they don’t decay for 1000 years. More energy intensive cotton bags have the advantage of breaking down quickly. Plus, advocates say, people need time to change their behavior and remember to re-use their reusables.

Sometimes life just gets really, really hard, like when you have to remember to bring a bag from home or pay 10 cents for a new one, and it can seem unfair. Is there a cruel, spiteful God that punishes Americans with his pettiness? I can’t answer that, but the best we can do is change our behavior so that we don’t have to pay for bags, and so we can slowly reduce our overall consumption of resources, one bag at a time. 

Although, a small fraction of Californians might miss bag art, like in American Beauty:


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One thought on “California Plastic Bag Ban Holds in Proposition 67

  1. I voted for banning plastic bags in California. However, I was surprised to see that grocery stores still offer them! I thought plastic bags would be banned by everyone and every store! I had no intention when I voted this way, for stores to make a profit while still making plastic bags! I am appalled!

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