June 23, 2020

Some good news came out of the state capitol this week – Governor Newsom’s former Executive Order to temporarily suspend California’s bag ban has been lifted and will not be extended. On April 22, 2020, Governor Newsom suspended the state’s plastic bag ban and bottle redemption program among other measures for 60-days in response to COVID-19. As the statewide bag ban is now reinstated, stores will no longer offer single-use plastic bags for free and will charge for reusable plastic bags and paper bags.

Surfrider acknowledges and strongly agrees with the need to protect our frontline workers from COVID-19. There are best practices outlined in CAL-OSHA’s Safety and Health guidance that encourage customers “to leave their own bags in the shopping cart and bag their own groceries so that employees do not contact the bags.” 

As the current science stands, the COVID-19 virus is not known to spread through surface contact, but respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Therefore, it makes sense to reinstate the statewide bag ban and promote the use of reusable bags. When proper precautions are taken, reusable bags are safe and protect both the worker and the customer. 

Just this week, over 115 scientists, academics, and doctors from 18 countries signed onto a statement reassuring retailers and consumers that reusable systems can be utilized safely during the pandemic by employing basic hygiene and protective measures. Single-use plastic bags and products negatively impact our community and environment, and all too often the burden is put on disadvantaged communities.  We appreciate Governor Newsom reinstating the statewide bag ban and hope that we can move towards reusable bags being commonplace in stores again rather than single-use plastic bags. 

Statewide Plastic Bag Ban Suspension Update

Original Blog Posted 5/27/20

Unfortunately, you may have recently noticed more plastic bags being used when going grocery shopping. This is because Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order (EO) in late April to suspend the state’s plastic bag ban and bottle redemption program (SB 270) for 60-days in response to COVID-19. The suspension of the statewide bag ban means that stores can offer single-use plastic bags for free rather than offering reusable plastic bags or paper bags for a charge. This suspension does not apply if you reside in one of over 100 municipalities that implemented local bag ban ordinances before 2015. We are disappointed to see this regression to single-use plastic happen as the EO is not based on the best available science, does not align with other agency recommendations, and overall, is not an effective response. 

Source: CalRecycle

Surfrider acknowledges and strongly agrees with the need to protect our frontline workers. At this time, the COVID-19 virus is not known to spread through surface contact and better potential guidance could be to encourage customers to bag their own groceries if reusable bags are used. Rather, the CDC guidelines state that the virus “is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person… (between people who are in close contact with one another, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks).” What we currently need to protect frontline workers is increased access to personal protective equipment, precautionary sanitation, the practice of physical distancing, and guidance issued for how customers can bring their bags for groceries without putting workers at risk. 

It’s important to note that you can still safely use your reusable bags when proper precautions are taken. There are best practices outlined in CAL-OSHA’s Safety and Health guidance that encourage customers “to leave their own bags in the shopping cart and bag their own groceries so that employees do not contact the bags.” Also, neither the Center for Disease Control nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends using disposable bags in place of reusables, but instead offers guidance on how to protect workers and keep work areas clean and safe. 

In addition to an increase of thin plastic bags, another problem with suspending the statewide bag ban is that bags provided at the register don’t have to meet other parts of the law. For example, the requirement of using 40% recycled plastic in reusable bags is not being implemented since retailers are providing plastic bags instead. This is causing a ripple effect and is negatively impacting plastic recycling facilities around the country, where they are experiencing cancellations and a significant decline in orders of recycled plastic resin. 

The California Grocers Association is lobbying for those local governments currently exempt to adopt similar suspension of bag ban policies, but Surfrider and allies are pushing back. We recently sent a sign-on letter to Governor Newsom urging him to immediately reinstate California’s bag ban and bottle redemption programs following the 60-day suspension, if not sooner. Plastic pollution is a pervasive problem and harms our communities, economy, wildlife, and human health. We’ve seen the positive impact that the statewide bag ban has created, such as one-third fewer plastic bags and pieces found in stormwater runoff in Southern California. Therefore, it is critical that our state does not regress to a time when bags were littered throughout our communities and environment. While public health and protecting essential workers is a top priority, suspending the statewide plastic bag ban should not be part of the response.