What's Happened to California's Plastic Bag Ban During the Pandemic?

  • Posted on 1 July 2020
  • By Hoiyin Ip
Maybe you have noticed the resurgence of single-use plastic bags in LA and Orange Counties. If not, it is important to start paying attention.  
One unexpected impact of COVID-19 has been time travel, we were brought back to 2012 by Governor Newsom’s Executive Order suspending portions of the statewide ban of single-use plastic bags. 2012 was the year when the Sierra Club Zero Waste team and many environmental groups succeeded in getting city leaders of Los Angeles to enact a ban on single-use plastic bags.  And our work continued. In 2016, California passed a statewide plastic bag ban through Proposition 67 (SB 270). The ban allowed stores to provide paper or reusable plastic bags for a minimum of 10 cents if the patron didn't bring their own bags. Although the “reusable" bags could be plastic and looked like “single-use,” they needed to be certified conforming to new state specifications.
While COVID-19 had us sequestered in our homes and participating in social distancing, the California Grocers Association came up with the argument that reusable bags brought by the public were a vector issue - a significant method of disease transmission, employees risked COVID-19 exposure in loading groceries into these bags. Yet, they would not acknowledge the Department of Health’s claim that if customers bagged their own purchases, the point was moot, and employees were not in any vector issue. In addition, the ​Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had stated: "transmission of novel coronavirus to persons from surfaces contaminated with the virus has not been documented."
WHAT CAN YOU DO? The provisions of Governor Newsom’s Executive Order impacting the single-use plastic ban expired on June 22. Unless there's a restriction by the local government, which is not widely seen in California, stores must allow you to bring your own bags, and offer paper or plastic reusable bags with the bag fee. Do you see any store that is not in compliance? Tell the store manager that the statewide plastic bag ban is back in play, remind him/her why California, other states and countries have banned single-use plastic bags.
Anyone Can Save the Ocean 
Becky Ni, Age 15 
Vancouver, Canada 
"While I was conducting research, I found that a person uses a plastic bag on average for only 12 minutes. In the meantime, we only recycle 1 plastic bag in every 200 we use. Each year, 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are estimated to be consumed worldwide, meaning that one million are consumed per minute. A very large portion of these used plastic bags end up in the ocean, causing deaths of thousands of marine mammals who ingest plastic or get entangled in them. My painting shows a person carrying a plastic bag. The plastic bag represents the ocean and a sea turtle is trapped inside. A plastic bag is stuck on its head making it the bag’s victim. The person is the injurer since the person is the consumer of the bag. Dead coral reefs, fish bones, and more plastic bags lie on the ocean floor, showing how seriously the ocean is damaged. Finally, the background is full of people carrying fabric bags, showing the solution for saving our ocean."
[Art: Anyone Can Save the Ocean  © Becky Ni for Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs all rights reserved]
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I'm trying not to bring in my home single use plastics, but it is nearly impossible if you buy take out. Too bad restauranteurs won't let us bring in our glass containers for take out.

Though we're not allow to use our own containers for takeout, we still have an option. Not all takeout containers are the same. Some restaurants use Styrofoam, some use reusable (https://www.facebook.com/SierraClubZeroWaste/photos/a.116492386706826/120180296338035). Educate the restaurants that use Styrofoam on it environmental impacts. Thanks the restaurants that use reusable, and spread the word for them.

Hi there - How can we introduce compostable silverware for all restaurants?

The most effective way to get restaurants change is regulation. In 2/2018, Malibu was the first in LA to regulate single-use utensils, that must be truly compostable - wood, bamboo, edible (https://www.malibucity.org/DocumentCenter/View/17169/Plastic-Free-Guideline-Straws-Stirrers-and-Cutlery-Ban). A few cities followed suit, including Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica. We have much more work to do. Would you like to join us? Which city do you live in? Thanks!

Please conserve plastic bags and always dispose of them properly. The Pacific Garbage Patch is absolutely devastating.

I am in the process of moving and found an entire cabinet full of plastic bags. I regularly recycle but was still able to aacumulate all those bags. Do I pack them?? Do I take them with me or do I take a chance they’ll be recycled? Enough already with these damn bags.

You must not be the only person who has "an entire cabinet full of plastic bags." Those bags are not really recyclable. Can you turn them to an art project for education? Have fun!

Plastics are invading every aspect of our existence and poisoning us and our environment! It must stop!

Have you added your name to our campaign "Support Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act Of 2020 to Help End Single-use Plastic Pollution!"? https://addup.sierraclub.org/campaigns/support-break-free-from-plastic-pollution-act-of-2020-to-help-end-single-use-plastic-pollution Thanks!

Would it be possible to make an actual cloth bag with the beautiful painting of the sea creatures on it? I would live to use it & it's a GREAT conversation starter with other shoppers, family, & friends. p.s. I have moved to Monterey, CA, 93940, but I'm happy to continue to receive any news from Sierra Club - from Southern CA or Central CA.

Thanks for your support! Yes, this piece of art is "a GREAT conversation starter." It belongs to Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Programs. They have a large collection of youth art like this. Please check out their online store for a shopping bag or other products. https://bowseat.org/store/

The pandemic has painfully reminded us of the single-use plastic problem, we can use alternative materials and clean up our act before it is too late, don’t let our oceans choke to death.

I want to make sure I understand the article. Am I right that we can bring our own bags to the grocery store as long as we bag our own purchases?

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