This past Tuesday the California Assembly passed Bill 1998, banning single-use plastic bags from being given out at large retailers, including supermarkets, drug stores, convenience stores and liquor stores. According to the bill, stores will still be permitted to offer reusable bags and 40% post consumer paper bags for a fee. This is huge.

Here’s an interesting fact about the bill. It defines reusable bags as those made of washable materials and without lead or heavy metals in amounts that are toxic. Also, the bags must be “designed and manufactured for at least 100 uses.”

I have a few questions:

  • Who’s testing the reusable bags that are sold by the zillions and are made of lightweight plastic materials ? Who’s going to check to ensure that these bags don’t contain lead or heavy metals? What about BPA and phthalates, which are common plastic additives and known to contribute to serious health concerns?
  • What’s washable? Are the lawmakers encouraging people to buy/sell bags made of fabrics that can go through the wash (i.e., cotton, hemp, bamboo, nylon, etc.) or simply bags that can be cleaned with detergent or cleanser?
  • Who’s up for testing their bags to see if they withstand the 100-use test? I have several from ECOBAGS that I’ve washed and used for 10+ years! I think those will qualify. But I also have a pile of ripped bags made from materials that are not natural fibers or are poorly made. There’s no easy re-use for that pile, except maybe to use as base for mulching in the garden.

In a state struggling to find ways to balance its financial house the impacts of this bill will be immediate; last year California taxpayers spent $25 million annually to collect and bury 19 billion (that’s Billion, with a B) plastic bags. According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, less than five percent of all single use plastic bags in the state are actually recycled. This bill will have an immediate impact on those numbers, as we’ve seen in DC recently and in Ireland a few years ago.

So yay for California; for being progressive, for being pro-active and for showing how leadership can work to benefit the environment. Let’s hope that consumers choose quality bags made from natural or sturdy synthetic fibers rather than thin plastic. We don’t want California to trade one environmental problem for another.

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