By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

California’s state Senate rejected a proposed law to ban plastic bags in grocery stores late Tuesday, voting 21-14 against the measure that had passed the Assembly earlier this summer.

Despite the support of progressives, environmental groups and the California Grocers Association, the plastic bag ban proved controversial. The American Chemistry Council, which represents plastics makers and the oil industry, fought against the bill, ridiculing it in ads that claimed it was the wrong focus for the legislature and would cost the state jobs.

Proponents of AB 1998, as it was titled, had argued that the disposable, non-biodegradable plastic bags add to the state’s pollution burden, particularly cluttering beaches and contributing to ocean waste. Had the law passed, consumers could have switched to more environmentally friendly options, either purchasing paper bags, or using reusable grocery totes, as they do in the California cities that have already banned plastic bags (San Francisco, Palo Alto, Fairfax and Malibu).

“This is a sad day for California,” said bag ban author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley. “Communities across the state were waiting for the state to adopt a uniform, statewide ban on single-use bags before they adopt their own ordinances.”

Californians spend $25 million a year to collect and dispose of many of the 19 billion single-use plastic bags used by residents of the state every year, according to Brownley’s office. The plastic debris also hurts marine life and adds to the growing plastic garbage patch in the Pacific, a rotating gyre that’s twice the size of Texas. The plastic gyre continues to grow because plastic, if not recycled, persists in the environment for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Plastic makers were happy to see the bill defeated. ACC spokesman Tim Shestek told Plastics News that the “costly bill” would not have solved California’s litter problem and “would have further jeopardized California’s already strained economy” through the loss of jobs for people making plastic bags.

Without a state ban, consumers concerned about the environment will have to champion the cause on their own, Brownley said.  “The state failed them (residents). But, this is an environmental movement that won’t be stopped, even by big-money interests like the American Chemistry Council. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when consumers bring their own bags and become good stewards of the environment.”

AB 1998 would have gone into effect for supermarkets and pharmacies in 2012.

Other supporters of the ban included the United Food and Commercial Workers, the California Labor Federation and the California Retailers Association.

Los Angeles County, Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach are considering enacting local plastic bag bans. They would join cities around the world and China, which banned stores from offering free disposable plastic bags in January 2008, a move that dramatically reduced plastic bag use and saved the nation millions in petroleum costs, according to a World Watch report.

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