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Calif.'s Plastic Bag Ban: 5 Things You Should Know

By Brett Snider, Esq. on October 01, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

California made history on Tuesday by signing the nation's first statewide ban on plastic bags into law.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill, SB 270, on Tuesday, which will eventually remove single-use plastic bags from big box stores like Walmart and Target as well as grocery stores, convenience stores, and pharmacies. The Associated Press reports that plastic bags have been successfully ousted from many large cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, but this statewide ban marks a major milestone.

Here are five things every consumer should know about California's plastic bag ban:

1. Not Effective Until 2015.

Like many laws, California's SB 270 won't go into effect immediately. In California, unless the bill signed into law has some sort of emergency provision attached to it, the law will not go into effect earlier than January 1 of the next year. Partly this is to ensure that the state can allow individuals and businesses to prepare to comply with the laws. SB 270 will bar the bigger retail stores to ditch single-use plastic bags by July 1, 2015, and smaller convenience stores, food marts, and pharmacies by July 1, 2016.

2. Not All Plastic Bags Are Barred.

SB 270 doesn't remove all disposable plastic bags from California stores. The law specifically exempts:

  • Prescription medication bags;
  • Non-handled bags for covering meat, vegetables, or fruit;
  • Bags for unwrapped food items (e.g., nuts or trail mix); and
  • Dry cleaning bags.

So don't worry, Californians will still be able to shield their fresh vegetables from their bloody steaks.

3. Stores Will Charge for Paper Bags.

Cities which have already passed plastic bag bans have mandated that stores to charge at least 10 cents for each recyclable paper bag, and SB 270 will continue that trend for both paper and compostable bags.

4. No One Is Forced to Buy a Bag.

No retailer will be allowed to force Californians to purchase a recyclable bag. Individuals will have to choose whether to carry a reusable bag, purchase paper bags, or simply carry things without bags.

5. The Plastic Bag Lobby Plans to Fight It.

The national coalition behind Big Plastic Bag's interests is planning on seeking a voter initiative in to repeal the law. The Sacramento Bee reports that the American Progressive Bag Alliance is collecting signatures to overturn the law on the 2016 ballot.

While California's statewide plastic bag ban may be the first, it may not be the last. The AP reports that plastic bag bans are being considered in at least three other states.

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