The Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee voted 6-2 Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 700, legislation seeking to give consumers the choice of using their own shopping bags at grocery stores and other retail outlets, or paying a nickel-per-bag fee that would go toward local environmental and parks projects.
“This measure gives communities and consumers a choice. Local governments get to decide whether they want to participate in the program, and those that do participate will see the proceeds from bag sales go into environmental and parks projects in their community,” said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, the bill’s author. “Consumers can bring their own bag, pass on the bag entirely or pay a 5 cents-per-bag fee.
“This proposal would not only reduce wasteful bag use in California, but generate an estimated $100 million to $200 million in steady annual revenue that communities could use for new parks, litter removal or other environmental projects.”
SB 700 provides an alternative to banning single-use plastic bags outright, a proposal that has proved unpopular in many California communities. While nearly 70 cities in the state have adopted local ordinances to ban single-use plastic bags and charge for single-use paper bags — a fee that goes directly to the retailer collecting it — more than 400 cities and counties have chosen not to enact such measures.
Proposals to ban single-use plastic bags have surfaced several times in Davis but no definitive action has been taken.
Wolk’s bill would not pre-empt any existing or future local ordinance. Additionally, local governments could opt out of the tax program, and subsequent revenue, with a vote by their city council or board of supervisors.
“This bill implements an innovative approach to reduce waste and generate valuable resources that can be deployed locally in communities throughout California for critical park, open space and watershed capital investments, as well as other environmental programs,” said Doug Houston with the California Park & Recreation Society, the bill’s sponsor.
“Parks build communities and encourage physical activity. This legislation provides a new tool to promote space for play and exercise, positive health outcomes, and community throughout the state.”
Wolk’s bill is modeled after successful programs in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Maryland, which reduced bag use 70 to 80 percent. Even with reduced bag use, the bag fee generates $2.50 to $3.50 a person.
Under SB 700, retailers would keep a half-cent of the bag fee to cover their administrative costs — and could keep another half-cent if they voluntarily implement a bag credit program. Remaining revenues would be put in a special fund at the State Resources Agency, and returned to the local jurisdictions where they were raised in the form of grants. The state costs would be paid for out of the program’s revenue.
“I just want people to know this is a simple, easy-to-understand, consumer-friendly approach that I’ve experienced myself when visiting Washington, D.C.,” Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, who sits on the resources committee, said during the hearing. “You buy your stuff and at the check-out they ask if you need a bag. If you do, you pay a nickel and that’s it. It’s not complicated. It’s a win-win for everybody and the environment.”
SB 700, which is also supported by California State Parks Foundation and Rite-Aid, will next be heard in the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.