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Calif. may ban plastic bags

SACRAMENTO, Calif. —It could soon cost California shoppers at the checkout aisle if they forget to bring their own bags to the store under what would be the nation's first statewide plastic bag ban.

The California Assembly on Wednesday passed legislation prohibiting pharmacies and grocery, liquor and convenience stores from giving out plastic bags. The bill also calls for customers to be charged for using store-issued paper bags.

The goal is to get rid of unsightly disposable plastic bags that often wind up in urban rivers and the ocean, as well as to reduce the number of bags heading for landfills.

"The biggest way to eliminate this kind of pollution is to ban it," said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who authored the bill.

Discouraging plastic bag use through fees or bans first gained traction outside of the U.S. in nations such as South Africa, Ireland, China and Bangladesh.

In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require supermarkets and large drug stores to offer customers bags made only of recyclable paper, plastic that can be turned into compost, or sturdy cloth or plastic that can be reused.

No other U.S. state has adopted a ban, according to Brownley's office.

The bill, AB 1998, still needs state Senate approval. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised the Assembly for passing the plastic bag ban, which he called "a great victory for our environment."

Ashley Smith, 29, of Sacramento said she favors banning plastic bags, even though she reuses her plastic bags to pick up after her dog.

"It's good to do things that are good for the environment," Smith said as she left a Safeway grocery store in Sacramento.

The measure has the support of the California Grocers Association, which decided to the back the bill after Brownley agreed to subject all stores that sell groceries to the ban.

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