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Calif. Plastic Bag Ban Advocates Cite State's Coastal Obligation

PHOTO: California is poised to become the first state in the U.S. to institute a statewide ban on single-use grocery store plastic bags. Advocates say the measure will help the environment and save tax dollars. Photo credit: Heal the Bay.
PHOTO: California is poised to become the first state in the U.S. to institute a statewide ban on single-use grocery store plastic bags. Advocates say the measure will help the environment and save tax dollars. Photo credit: Heal the Bay.
September 16, 2014

SAN DIEGO - California is poised to become the first state in the nation to enact a statewide ban on single-use grocery store plastic bags, following the passage of SB 270 in the state Legislature.

While opponents argue it will cost consumers and businesses money, advocates say the ban is the first step in putting an end to 30 years of single-use plastic bag litter, which never decomposes.

Bill Hickman, CEO of Cleanups for Change, a nonprofit that hosts and enables community litter cleanups, says his organization is excited about passage of the plastic bag ban.

"It gets rid of one of the top litter items we find at beach cleanups, and cleanups inland," says Hickman. "It's not just a coastal issue - Central Valley, you'll see plastic bags going across the farmland."

Hickman says California has a unique obligation to combat plastic bag pollution, given the state's enormous population and lengthy coastline.

"We're a coastal state. We have a responsibility to find source reductions of plastic," he says. "And it's really just a tip of the plastic bag iceberg, but something that has an easy solution in reusable bags."

Belinda Smith is a partner with Gary Manufacturing, a San Diego commercial and industrial sewing company that produces reusable plastic items. She says it's unlikely manufacturers in the state will be affected by the ban.

"The vast majority of single-use plastic bags are actually produced in China," Smith says. "There are a few companies in the U.S. still producing single-use plastic bags, but there's almost no profit in them for anyone distributing the bags."

The California legislation was, in part, based on Hawaii's ban on plastic bags, but that ban didn't start out as statewide - each of Hawaii's five counties one-by-one passed their own "bag bans."

Smith says her overriding concern is preserving the state's quality of life. She sees reducing pollution on land and water as a matter of dollars and cents.

"California spends more than $40 billion a year on cleanups," she explains. "That's a huge amount of money that trickles down to every local municipality that has to spend a few hundred thousand here, a few hundred thousand there, whether it's cleaning out storm drains or picking up litter in a park or on a beach or on a highway."

Governor Jerry Brown has indicated he will likely sign the bill into law, but hasn't given a date. A ban wouldn't take effect until 2015, and stores would offer paper bags, reusable plastic bags or compostable bags for a 10-cent fee.

Tommy Hough, Public News Service - CA