Legislation 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, was approved 6-3 Wednesday by the Senate Environmental Quality Committee.
“This measure will reduce wasteful bag use in California while generating a steady stream of revenue for new parks, litter removal or other environmental projects. It also gives communities and consumers a choice,” said state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, the author of Senate Bill 700.
“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 their community. Consumers can bring their own bag or pay a 5-cent-per-bag fee. ”
A recent Los Angeles Times editorial supporting a statewide bag tax over a bag ban reported that, “Where they’ve been made explicit, fees of just 5 cents have cut plastic bag use 75% to 90%.” Even with such reduced bag usage, programs in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Maryland, which Wolk used as a template for her bill, continue to generate about $3 per person annually for environmental programs. And a recent survey shows consumers overwhelmingly support these programs.
“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.
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 returned to the local jurisdictions where they were raised in the form of grants. The state costs for collecting and distributing the tax would be paid for out of the program’s revenue. The bill would not pre-empt any existing or future local ordinance.
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.
SB 700 will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.