California could ban plastic grocery bags in compromise deal

SACRAMENTO, California Fri Jan 24, 2014 4:26pm EST

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SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - California could become the first state in the nation to institute a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags under a compromise with business leaders, a state senator behind the proposal said on Friday.

Numerous cities in California and other states, including Maui County and a number of Hawaiian municipalities, have already made it illegal for grocery stores to pack consumer purchases in plastic.

But if passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown, the most populous U.S. state would become the first to enact a statewide ban, said state Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat.

Environmentalists have pushed hard for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, could cause injury to ocean life.

"We see plastic bags in our parks, plastic bags in our rivers," Padilla said. "By banning them, it's good for the environment, it's good for local government, and I think it's good for the economy."

Padilla's bid for a statewide ban fell only three votes short of passage last year, largely because of opposition by lawmakers with plastic bag manufacturers in their districts. The trade group representing grocers had signed on to the bill, believing that a single statewide standard would be easier to comply with than a patchwork of rules enacted from city to city, the senator said.

RE-TOOLING FACTORIES

In negotiations that continued into the evening on Thursday, Padilla said he and two lawmakers with manufacturers in their districts met with them and other business leaders to craft a deal that would allow the legislation to move forward.

Now, instead of simply banning the bags, the state would provide about $2 million in grants to manufacturers who want to re-tool, either to make paper sacks or re-usable plastic ones that customers can buy, Padilla said.

His bill, whose compromise language had not yet been introduced on Friday, would impose a 10-cent-per-bag fee on consumers who wish to buy paper sacks. Re-usable plastic bags - made of thicker often recycled material - are already available for purchase in many stores.

But it would not pre-empt existing bag ordinances in cities such as Los Angeles, West Hollywood and San Francisco, which have already enacted their own rules.

The announcement was set to be held at a plant owned by Command Packaging in the industrial suburb of Vernon, east of downtown Los Angeles. The company recently re-tooled a plant in Salinas to produce plastic bags with handles that can be sold for consumer use, adding 100 jobs.

"California's grocers stand ready to do our part to make California a global leader in the shift away from single-use plastic grocery bags," Ronald Fong, President and CEO of California Grocers Association, said in a news release. "There is no reason whatsoever now that California cannot finally make this measure a reality."

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)

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