The Bag Ban Returns to Reduce Plastic and Litter

On April 23, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order suspending SB 270 — California’s plastic bag ban — for 60 days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This order has not been renewed, so retailers are once again required to distribute only compostable or certified reusable bags and charge a minimum of 10 cents per bag. Let’s break down why the plastic bag ban is important and how you can avoid paying unnecessary fees next time you checkout.

According to a report by CalRecycle, a branch of the California Environmental Protection Agency, “Six months after SB 270 went into effect there was an 85 percent reduction in the number of plastic bags and a 61 percent reduction in the number of paper bags provided to customers.” This is a big deal considering Californians were using close to 1 billion single-use plastic bags per year prior to the implementation of the ban. In addition to reducing plastic use, the ban has had a significant impact on the amount of litter across the state. Prior to the ban, coastal clean-ups by the Ocean Conservancy found that plastic bags made up 8-10 percent of marine litter. After the ban, that number dropped to less than 4 percent. This reduction in plastic use and litter is something Californians can truly be proud of.

But what about those reusable plastic bag fees? Yes, they are annoying but that is the point. The fee is designed to incentivize shoppers to reduce plastic use. Every time you bring your own bag — whether it is a fancy tote or a 10-cent bag from a prior checkout — you are both helping curb plastic use and saving yourself a little money. It is a win-win.

It should be noted that as of June 28, 2020, stores can still restrict the use of personal bags and require customers to purchase store-provided bags instead. To ensure you can use your own bags, call ahead to find a store that is allowing personal bags.

Have any single-use plastic bags hanging around? You can recycle them at a store drop-off location — but call ahead because some locations are accepting bags during the pandemic. Alternatively, plastic bags can be reused to line a small bathroom trash can or even pick up pet waste.