California — Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores.
As many Californians debate the costs and benefits of this new ban, University of San Diego and its students prepare for the elimination of plastic bags both on and off campus.
According to the Huffington Post, plastic bags will start to be taken out of large grocery stores and supermarkets beginning in the summer of 2015, and convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016.
The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers.
Though the law is not yet in effect, junior Diana Fontaine has already experienced shopping without plastic bags.
“The other day, I went to Buffalo Exchange and while checking out, they asked me if I need a bag or if I would prefer to get a token,” Fontaine said. “Since I didn’t get a bag, the cashier gave me a token to place in one of three buckets that supports a charity. I think this is a great idea for our future and would like to see many more stores following suit.”
According to CNN, stores will be required to offer customers recycled paper bags or bags made of compostable material at a cost of at least 10 cents. Consumers buying groceries using California’s food-assistance program will not have to pay for bags.
This law also provides $2 million in state-backed loans to help businesses make the transition to reusable bags.
Critics of the law believe that the ban is not beneficial and will cost many Americans their jobs. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, bag manufacturers believe the law will eliminate manufacturing jobs. Those against the bag ban plan to gather signatures for a referendum to overturn the law on the Nov. 2016 ballot.
Brown explained his motives for the new ban in a Huffington Post article.
“This bill is a step in the right direction,” Brown said. “It reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself. We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”
According to CNN, the ban is a milestone for environmentalists who say the 13 million plastic bags that are handed out each year in California are left in waterways and landfills and do not break down for decades.
Fontaine, who has participated in beach clean-ups sponsored by the nonprofit organization I Love a Clean San Diego, believes the ban will help clean up the local beaches and waterways.
“I think the plastic bag ban is a great idea to help the quality of our environment,” Fontaine said. “There are millions of plastic bags produced every day and when they are thrown out, many of them end up in our environment. When they degrade, they break down into tiny pieces and these pieces get into our waterways and marine organisms ingest them. For the health of the plants and the animals who inhabit [the waterways], the ban is a great way to help prevent excess plastic bags in the environment.”
Steven Searcy, a professor in environmental and ocean sciences, also believes the new law is a good thing.
“Plastic is very slow to degrade in the marine environment and banning single-use plastic bags is a step in the right direction,” Searcy said. “We know that plastics can entangle, smother and in some cases be ingested by wildlife, and there is also increasing recognition that plastics concentrate toxic chemicals that can have many negative impacts on organisms that consume them.”
Searcy believes this new ban will be effective in reducing pollution.
“Ultimately, banning all plastics is not a realistic solution, as plastics provide many benefits,” Searcy said. “The key is to reduce use of plastics that we don’t need such as single-use items, including plastic bags.”
Paula Morreale, USD’s sustainability coordinator, believes the law accomplishes more than reducing plastic waste.
“I believe this is a good initiative for San Diego to get behind and a way for us to reduce our pollution, save wildlife and think about our resources and consumption,” Morreale said. “This ban helps people to really think about the resources they use and what happens to those items when they are no longer needed. We need to get away from a single use culture and think creatively about reuse.”
She thinks the law is something students can easily support and implement.
“I think this is an easy behavior change that everyone can get behind,” Morreale said. “All you need is a few bags to keep in your car, near your bike, or in your purse or backpack.
Morreale pointed out the added benefits to students who use reusable bags.
“It can also save you money,” Morreale said. “Some stores, like Target and Sprouts, take 5 to 10 cents off the purchase for every reusable bag you bring.”
As Californians prepare for the impending ban on plastic bags, other cities across the United States including Austin, Seattle and Chicago have already illustrated that the outcome of the ban can be effective within smaller populations.