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October 2006


California plastic bag recycling act clears legislature

AB 2449 would establish in-store recycling programs

The California Legislature adopted AB 2449 by Assembly member Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys). AB 2449 is a measure that would require most California grocery stores to provide consumers with in store take-back and recycling for plastic grocery bags.

Plastic Bags

California retailers generate more than 150,000 tons of plastic bags annually, and less than 3% are currently recycled.

The bill, which now goes to the Governor’s desk on the strength of a 62-2 vote, also requires stores to place a plastic grocery bag recycling bin inside the store and make reusable bags available for customers to purchase. Additionally, after July 1, 2007, all bags must be labeled: ‘Please Return to Participating Store for Recycling’.

Data collected during California’s annual Coastal Cleanup and the 1999 Pilot Litter Study by the Department of Conservation indicates that disposable retail bags represent some of the most commonly littered items. Plastic bags are easily carried by wind from uncovered trashcans and dumpsters, vehicles, and solid waste facilities including landfills.

In fact, the Los Angeles River Cleanup in April 2004, found that plastic film and bags constituted 45 percent of the litter they collected by volume. Litter collection for beaches, state highways, cities and counties cost the state $303.2 million each year.

Although volunteer coastal cleanups and public education efforts have been very helpful in maintaining California’s coastlines clean, more needs to be done to reduce the waste. In order to reduce marine debris, the amount of waste generated on land must be reduced and disposed of properly. Recycling can significantly reduce the amounts of litter reaching marine and coastal waters.

While Ireland and a handful of other nations have had success reducing plastic bag waste by imposing ‘fees’ on their distribution, for more than a decade, California retailers have successfully blocked state and local policies aimed at reducing and recycling plastic bags. Most recently, in 2003 and 2004, retailers defeated California legislation to place an ‘advance disposal fees’ on plastic bags. And in 2005, despite a rigorous effort by proponents, retailers in San Francisco successfully derailed a ‘Plastic Tax’ there. At the same time, some retailers have recently stepped up and begun providing real in-store recycling opportunities for consumers.

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