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In The Bag?

As a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags seems increasingly likely, supermarkets are finally supporting the idea, choosing statewide regulation over a patchwork of city ordinances that would make compliance difficult. The California Grocers Association is supporting California Assembly Bill 1998, introduced by local Assemblywoman Julia Brownley in February. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is currently being considered in the Senate. The bill proposes to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags at supermarkets and stores of more than 10,000 square feet that sell food products and include pharmacies, starting in 2012. The same rule would apply to convenience food stores and food marts, starting in 2013. The stores, if the law is passed, would be required to make reusable bags available to customers at checkout stands. The stores could also sell single-use bags made of recycled paper for a cost of at least 5 cents if the bag contains at least 40 percent biodegradable content. While the association has opposed previous bills with similar aims, it is supporting the current bill because it considers a statewide law as better than the alternative. “We would rather live by one statewide standard that is fair for everybody, that is fair to all grocery stores,” said California Grocers Association president and CEO Ron Fong. “Currently what is happening in California is the issue of paper and plastic bags has been in debate in local governments for years now. So, you have different local ordinances and different regulations in local government.” Fong said the regulation differences cause a problem for chain supermarkets that are located in various cities and have to comply with different sets of rules. The group decided to back the bill because it made major changes to previous bag-banning efforts, Fong said. The original version of Brownley’s bill proposed banning both plastic and paper single-use bags. The legislation is also a change from one of Brownley’s bills proposed last year that attempted to charge up to 25 cents for single-use carry-out bags. Meanwhile, opponents have cited health concerns saying the bags could become contaminated, using studies to back up their claims. Loma Linda University and the University of Arizona released a study on June 9, which found large numbers of bacteria in 84 reusable bags collected from consumers. The study also showed that the bags were almost never cleaned, and few people used separate bags for vegetables and raw meats. Higher costs Raja Assily, store manager at Valley Produce in Reseda, said the bill is a good move for the environment but will still create a hardship for his privately owned supermarket and others. “It would lead to higher costs,” he said. “We have to pay for more bags. The cost would be transferred to the customer eventually.” He also said customers won’t adjust to the change overnight, especially older customers who often are not as involved with environment-friendly initiatives. Valley Produce and other grocery stores have already been in compliance with another law passed in 2006 that requires them to set up bins for customers to recycle their used plastic bags on-site. The requirement would be eliminated in 2011 if the bill passes. Eventual cost balance California Assemblywoman Julie Brownley, whose district includes parts of the San Fernando Valley, said plastic bags are a major polluter. “Plastic bags are one of the most ubiquitous products that we make, and quite frankly, they’re not necessary,” she said. “We use them to transport our groceries for five to 10 minutes when we utilize them, and it probably takes 500 years to break down.” California spends about $25 million annually to collect and bury the 19 billion plastic bags used every year, according to the bill’s analysis report. The report also cites a California Department of Resources Recovery and Recycling finding that less than 5 percent of all single-use plastic bags are recycled nationwide. Brownley said the new support from food industry groups such as the California Grocers Association and the Neighborhood Market Association came from a realization that bag-banning regulations were going to pass. Cities such as Santa Monica, Malibu and San Francisco have already passed or started working on their own ordinances that limit or charge for bag use, she said. “I think they started to see that the train was out of the station,” Brownley said. “If they were going to have to compete with different regulations throughout the state, I think they came to the conclusion that that would be very difficult for them.” Brownley said costs would eventually balance out for stores affected by the bill. “I think reusable bags are going to be quite available at very minimal costs, and once you have your reusable bags, you don’t have to purchase them again,” she said, adding that stores would then eventually spend less to re-stock them. Supporters of the bill include the California Grocers Association, Neighborhood Market Association, Rite Aid, Los Angeles County, environmentalist groups, several cities – including Burbank – and various other organizations. Those opposing the bill include Biodegradable Products Institute, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and several chambers of commerce.

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