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California becomes first U.S. state to ban plastic bags

Plastic bags

(NaturalNews) A statewide ban against single-use plastic bags has now gone into effect in California, after voters approved Proposition 67, a measure upholding a previous ban approved in 2014.

Plastics industry interests hoped that voters would defeat the ban, but it narrowly passed – making California the first state to enact such a law. The original ban – state Senate Bill 270 – was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, but was put on hold awaiting voter approval.

The new rules went into effect immediately after the November ballot. From The San Diego Union-Tribune:

"The restrictions apply to large food retailers, pharmacies, corner markets and liquor stores but not restaurants or department stores.

"Businesses can still offer paper bags and thicker plastic bags as long as they charge at least 10 cents for each of those items — a move crafted to encourage folks to tote their own reusable sacks."

Californians pass measure despite plastic industry spending on ballot campaign

The plastics industry pushed for the referendum, with mostly out-of-state industry groups spending $6.1 million in efforts to defeat the measure – compared to $1.6 million spent by environmental groups in campaigns to uphold the ban.

Another industry-backed proposal which would have used profits from new bag sales to finance a state environmental fund was defeated in the ballot.

Environmentalists see the results as a decisive victory. Californians Against Waste executive director Mark Murray said:

"This is a huge win that goes way beyond plastic bags. This makes a strong statement in terms of (sending) a signal to polluters that might be eyeing to overturn other California environmental laws."

Referring to the effect the California ban may have on other states such as New York, Massachusetts and Washington, which are considering similar measures, Murray said: "We didn't pick this fight, but honestly, having an affirmative vote of the public on this policy is pretty profound in terms of sending a message across the country."

Plastics industry representatives say that the ban will place an unnecessary burden on low-income consumers and will do little to reduce pollution overall.

Plastic bags: an environmental disaster

But supporters of the ban believe that the law will make a big difference. Californians previously used around 13 billion plastic bags yearly, many of which ended up polluting cities, waterways and beaches. Plastic bags are usually among the five most common types of debris found on California beaches.

Whales, turtles and other sea animals are prone to swallowing plastic bags found floating in the ocean – an estimated 100,000 sea turtles and other marine creatures die each year worldwide from either ingesting or being strangled by plastic bags.

It takes as much as 100 million barrels of oil to produce a year's worth of plastic bags for worldwide use, and it takes at least 400 years for a plastic bag to biodegrade. As many as 1 trillion plastic bags are used each year worldwide.

Even though it takes hundreds of years for plastic bags to fully biodegrade, environmentalists say that plastic bags that come into contact with water never fully break down, but instead turn into a "plastic dust" containing biotoxin compounds called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

PCBs enter the food chain where they are eventually consumed by humans. They can cause cancer, and damage the nervous and immune systems.

Plastic bags clog drains, leading to flooding problems. They lead to the accumulation of vast floating garbage patches in the ocean.

Plastic bags are dangerous, unsightly, environmentally-unfriendly and unnecessary. California has set an example for the nation and, indeed, the world to follow. It's an easy way to tackle one of the big problems we have tended to ignore in our wasteful, throwaway society.







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