New Bill in the Bag

AFTER PREVIOUS proposals were tossed in the trash bin, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill at the end of September that will require grocery stores and other retail outlets to offer customers plastic grocery bag recycling. And this time, retailers have been more accepting, according to Assemblymember Lloyd Levine, the bill's author.

The new law makes it mandatory for supermarkets and other retailers to offer bag receptacles at every outlet and to develop educational programs for consumers. Also, beginning in July 2007, plastic bags will have to bear the phrase, “Please Return to Participating Store for Recycling.” Levine estimates that the requirements will result in more than 7,000 collection containers and offer residents the largest number of opportunities to recycle plastic bags aside from a curbside program.

“While this bill may not go as far as some local environmental groups and cities may have hoped, this program will make progress to reduce plastics in our environment,” Schwarzenegger wrote in a letter to the members of the California State Assembly. He added that by the time the bill sunsets in six years, municipalities will have had more time to develop additional solutions or the legislature to “consider a more far reaching solution.”

The supermarket industry did not respond well to prior attempts to reduce plastic bag waste, such as “bag taxes.” Late last year, for instance, San Francisco made an agreement with eight supermarket operators to reduce the annual use of grocery bags by 10 million by the end of 2006, rather than place a 17-cent charge on each bag, a proposal that the industry lobbied against.