Monday, April 14, 2008

Food & Grocery Legislation Memo: California Assembly Natural Resource Committee to Consider Second Plastic Bag Bill Along With Original Today

On Friday we wrote this piece about the 25-cent per single-use plastic carrier legislation that the California State Assembly Natural Resources Committee is debating and voting on in a hearing today at the California State Capital in Sacramento.

We've learned in addition to the 25-cent per plastic grocery bag legislation authored by Assemblyman Mike Davis, D-Los Angeles, which would impose a 25-cent per-bag fee on consumers at large supermarkets and drug stores in the state starting July 1, 2009 if passed by the full Assembly and State Senate and then signed by the Governor, the Natural Resource Committee also will consider a second bill in committee today.

That bill, authored by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Sherman Oaks, would levy a 15-cent per single-use plastic carrier bag fee on shoppers as a way to discourage supermarkets and large drug stores from offering the plastic bags, as well as discouraging consumers from asking for them.

However, the 15-cent per-bag fee would only go into effect if California supermarkets and drug stores failed to meet two plastic bag-use reduction benchmarks which are a key part of the bill.

Assemblyman Levine's bill, which the Natural Resource Committee is considering along with the direct 25-cent per-bag bill, would require the state's large supermarkets and drug stores (those already in the state's mandatory in-store plastic bag recycling program) to cut their current plastic bag use by 35% by the end of 2010, and by 70% by the end of 2012. If the retailers don't meet these goals, then the 15-cent per plastic bag consumer fee would automatically kick-in and the stores would have to levy the per-bag fee to shoppers who ask for the plastic bags.

Both bills if passed would use the money collected from the per-bag consumer fees to combat plastic bag litter and further reduce consumer use of the single-use plastic carrier bags in the state, according to the language in each of the bills.

Assemblyman Davis' 25-cent per plastic bag fee bill however would allow supermarket and drug store retailers required to charge the fee to consumers to keep 3% of the total per-bag fee to be used to help recover the in-store costs that will be required to collect the fee on each plastic grocery or shopping bag requested by consumers.

Assemblyman Levine's benchmark recycling bill, with the 15-cent per-bag fee kicking-in only if the above described goals aren't met, would use all of the money collected from the per-bag consumer fees for plastic bag litter cleanup in the state, along with being used to promote recycling. There's no 3% provision for the retailers' like in the Davis bill.

Last year California enacted a law which requires all large supermarkets to place plastic bag recycling bins in their stores and to arrange with a recycling company to have the bags picked up at the stores on a regular basis. The law also required the stores to offer reusable shopping bags for sale.

According to the California Grocer's Association and the environmental group Californians Against Waste, which was heavily involved in helping to implement the in-store plastic bag recycling law, the number of plastic bags in the state being recycled since the law was enacted last year has doubled, which is a strong sign since the recycling has has been in effect for less than a year.

However, before the law went into effect the plastic bag recycling rate in the state was only 2%. So, even though it's doubled, most of those supporting one or the other of the two bag-fee bills say they're needed since even at a doubling of the recycling rate from 2% -to- 4% that means 96% of the single-use thin plastic carrier bags are still not being recycled in California.

The state government estimates about 19 billion of the single-use plastic carrier bags are used in California each year. Since only 4% are recycled, that means the majority either go into landfills, litter the state's towns and roadsides or are washed into lakes, streams and the ocean.

According to research conducted by Assemblyman Levine's Sacramento office, the plastic bags generate about 147,000 tons of trash a year in the state's dumps and landfills. Levine was the author of the mandatory in-store plastic bag recycling bill which went was implemented last year.

The Assembly Natural Resource Committee is expected to choose between the two bills by the end of the day. However, as political deliberation goes, its possible they could table the vote for a later date.

Both bills allow the supermarkets to continue offering shoppers free paper grocery bags to package their purchases in. Additionally, nearly every supermarket and many drug stores of all sizes in the state are currently selling various varieties (ranging from 99-cents each to higher) of reusable shopping tote bags in their stores.

We will keep our readers posted on the outcome of today's Assembly Natural Resource Committee hearing on the two single-use plastic carrier bag bills.

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