California plastic bag ban suspended amid Covid-19 pandemic
By executive order, Gavin Newsom, Democratic governor of the US state of California, has suspended for 60 days the complete ban on plastic carrier bags (see of 17.11.2016) handed out in grocery stores statewide. The governor said he was acting at the urging of the California Grocers Association, which expressed concern during the coronavirus pandemic for the health of store clerks having to fill the reusable bags shoppers bring from home. In contrast to most European countries, US grocery store customers do not fill their own bags.

After years of plastic bag restrictions being enforced worldwide, California is suspending its ban for hygienic reasons (Photo: PantherMedia/IScarteblanche)
Arguing that reusable bags, especially if unwashed, are not hygienic, the US plastics industry has consistently fought the concept ever since the first restrictions began to appear (see of 11.10.2019) – foremostly in California . The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance (ARPBA, Washington, D.C. / USA; was the most vocal opponent of a ban in the heavily populated US state that is traditionally ahead of the rest of the country in implementing environmental legislation (see of 12.03.2019). The alliance claimed the ban would hurt the economy while enriching grocery stores that can charge customers for paper and reusable bags.

The governor’s order additionally includes a 60-day pause in redemption of returnable beverage containers in stores and a mandate for recycling centres to operate a minimum number of hours to accommodate the larger volume of plastics waste. Significantly, it does not affect the more than 100 cities and counties across the state that have adopted their own ordinances. However, San Francisco, the first US city to restrict plastic carrier bags, announced in mid-March that it would ban reusable bags for the duration of the city’s “Shelter in Place” regulation, now extended until 3 May 2020.

California’s ban on plastic carrier bags took effect in 2016, two years after it was due to be in place. The thin-wall single-use bags were replaced with sturdier plastic or paper bags that could be bought for USD 0.10 (EUR 0.09). Campaigners were especially unhappy with Newsom’s recent order. To some, the text saying that the suspensions are “critical to protect the public health and safety and minimise the risk of Covid-19 exposure for workers handling reusable grocery bags or recyclable containers where recycling centers are not available,” sounded like it could have been dictated by grocery retailers in cooperation with bag makers.

Mark Murray, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Californians Against Waste (, which had supported the legislature’s bag ban in 2014, said the order is unnecessary. “Reusable bags are perfectly safe and pose zero threat to store employees and other customers as long as consumers take responsibility to bag their own groceries,” he said. In the organisation’s estimate, thanks to the 2016 restrictions, the state now uses some 28 bn fewer plastic bags each year.
Plans for a levy on plastics producers
Multi-trip carrier bags are not the only issue concerning Californians during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Environmental groups are especially concerned about the chances of launching a ballot initiative for the November elections. Due to the virus-related lockdown that has kept signature gatherers off the street, the “California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act” backed by Californians Against Waste has not yet collected the required number of signatures to be placed on the ballot. Efforts are now under way to have voters mail in a petition.

The act calls for reducing the amount of single-use plastics sold in the state by at least 25% up to 2030. It also is designed to ensure that all other waste is actually composted or reused by 2030. Other provisions call for phasing out EPS takeout containers in favour of more sustainable alternatives and the creation of “thousands of green jobs.”

For the plastics industry, the most controversial part of the proposal is likely to be a plan to levy an unspecified for fee on polymer producers to help fund the state’s recycling and composting infrastructure and restore natural environments deemed to be negatively impacted by plastics pollution.
04.05.2020 [245027-0]
Published on 04.05.2020

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