Sunday, April 13, 2008

California State Assembly Natural Resource Committee to Vote on Statewide 25-cent Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bag-Fee on Monday

On Monday (April 14) the California State Assembly Committee on Natural Resources is set to vote on proposed legislation to create a 25-cent fee on each single-use plastic carrier bag used to pack customers' grocery purchases in the state's supermarkets and grocery stores.

If the bag-fee measure is passed in the committee, it will then go to the full State Assembly in Sacramento, where it will be scheduled for a full vote by the entire legislative body.

If such a bill is passed by the full California State Assembly, it then must be passed by the California State Senate and signed by the Governor in order to become law.

The if 25-cent per single-use plastic carrier legislation passes both bodies and is signed by the Governor, it would be the first statewide plastic-bag fee law in the U.S., and among the few currently in the world.

Read more about the California State Assembly Natural Resources Committee vote on Monday, as well as details about the issue here

A brief global tour on the issue

The United Kingdom country of Ireland passed a per-bag law nearly two years ago, for example. According to data published by the Irish government, it claims single-use plastic carrier bag use in the country has decreased by as much as 90% since the law was passed.

The British Parliament is currently in debate over single-use plastic carrier bag legislation. All signs indicate the government will either pass a law banning the bags completely or one creating a per-bag fee of some sort before the year is out.

In February, London's Daily Mail newspaper launched what it calls its "Ban the (Plastic) Bag" campaign, which is a media campaign designed to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier by the UK's retailers and consumers.

Since the campaign began most UK retailers have announced basically minor changes to their plastic bag use policies. Although a few have gone further.

For example, UK grocery, hard goods and soft goods retailer Mark's & Spencer said it would begin charging consumers about 10-cents for every single-use plastic carrier bag they requested in the retailer's stores, regardless of the store format.

Other retailers like general merchandise chain Woolworths (Woolies) have announced it will eliminate the use of plastic carrier bags in its stores completely.

The UK's "big four" supermarket chains--Tesco, Asda (owned by Wal-Mart), Sainsbury's and Morrisons--have all commented on the issue.

Tesco, parent company of Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in the USA and the UK's number one grocery retailer with about a 33% market share, has said it has no plans to stop offering single-use plastic carrier bags in its stores. It has launched a program to reduce the amount of plastic bags it uses this year compared to last by 25% however.

Asda announced a couple weeks after the "Ban the Bags" campaign started that it would make some modifications to a couple of its current policies regarding plastic grocery bag use as a way to reduce the volume of bags it gives out.

Those two modifications, according to Asda, include instructing all store workers to ask each customer if they've brought a reusable grocery bag with them to the store to have their groceries packed in before offering them a plastic one, and moving its rolls of single-use plastic carrier bags from outside the store checkout stands, where customers a free to take a couple extra anytime they desire, to behind the counter.

Sainsbury's also said it would make sure its store clerks asked each customer if they brought a reusable bag to the store before packing their grocery purchases in a single-use plastic carrier bag The UK's number three-largest grocery chain also announced it would be giving away free reusable "bags for life" frequently at all it's stores as a way to encourage the use of reusable bags among customers.

Morrisons' hasn't said much of anything to date on the matter, although it's on board along with others in saying it will reduce single-use plastic carrier bag use by 25% by the end of the year.

All four of the chains have said they have no plans to stop offering the single-use plastic carrier bags in their respective stores. However, all four of the retailers have pledged to reduce the number of plastic bags the use in their stores by 25% by the end of this year, compared to the number of the bags they used last year.

All four of the UK chains also sell various types (and priced) reusable bags in their stores. Each chain has said they have internal programs operating as well which will allow them to meet or exceed their 25% plastic bag use reduction promises.

Beyond the UK

Most of the activity globally regarding the single-use plastic carrier bags has been focused on outright bans of the use of the bags by retailers.

For example, earlier this year China banned all of the nations retailers from offering free, single-use plastic carrier bags in stores.

A number of other Asian and African countries have done the same.


In the United States, last year San Francisco banned all grocery retailers with stores over 10,000 square feet from offering the plastic grocery bags in their stores.

The nearby city of Oakland passed a similar bag-ban. However, Oakland's law hasn't been implemented as of yet because of a law suit filed against the city by a trade association which represents the single-use plastic carrier bag industry.

Dozens of other U.S. cities and counties have laws similar to San Francisco's ban ready to be voted on. Others are proposing laws which would levy a per-bag fee on the single-use plastic bags. By last count, we've identified more than 30 U.S. cities and counties which either have plastic bag-ban legislation in process or are preparing to submit it for a vote.


Globally, Australia is in the process of debate on whether to pass a plastic-bag ban or a per-bag fee scheme for the entire nation. Most observers "down under" tell us a national law based on one or the other of those options should be passed by the end of this year.

Whole Foods Market, Inc. to self-'Ban the Bag'

Meanwhile, Austin, Texas-based natural foods grocery chain Whole Foods Market, Inc. is set to stop offering single-use plastic carrier bags in all of its stores in the U.S., Canada and the UK on April 22, which is Earth Day. This self-ban is garnering the grocer lots of positive publicity in the U.S. press, as well as enhancing its green retailing credibility.

Many observers in the U.S. think the Earth Day self-ban of the single-use plastic carrier bags by Whole Foods Market, which is a trend-setting grocery retailer in the U.S., will result in other supermarket chains following the retailer's lead. It's believed other chain's will announce their own voluntary bans on the plastic grocery bags in their stores, rather than wait for what most believe is inevitable legislation to come from state and local governments.

Patchwork quilt vs. more uniform legislation

Although, if laws like the California 25-cent per-bag legislation passes, those retailers who stop offering the single-use plastic carrier bags on their own might find themselves in a difficult position. While they won't be offering the bags at all as an option to customers, much of the competition will be offering them, just at a 25-cent per-bag charge.

This above situation is a perfect example as to why some sort of uniform law--such as a statewide per-bag fee--is in the medium and long run probably the best solution for grocery retailers in California and eventually in the entire country. That way at least there's a level playing field.

Further, rather than have a patchwork quilt of local laws--some bans in some cities, per-bag fee schemes and mandatory in-store recycling in others--which is what's happening at present with all the proposed local legislation, the retailers could operate with one uniform law.

That way if a chain has stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Fresno, for example, rather than having to have a different plastic grocery bag policy in each region of the state, the grocers would only have one, uniform law to follow. Think about it.


Timmeh said...

Im a Trader Joe's crew member, and I noticed that you said we do not offer plastic to our customers. In actuality, we do offer plastic BUT, if a customer wants plastic they must ask for it. We bag everything in paper by default. Rarely to people ask for plastic at my store.

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

Thanks for letting us know "your" Trader Joe's does offer plastic grocery bags on request.

The Trader Joe's in our region just offers paper.

However, we also recieved an email on the piece from a reader in another part of the U.S., who said their TJ's stores also offer plastic--but it has to be requested by a shopper... That paper is the default bag of use, if you will.

It seem it's a bit of a patchwork in terms of some offering plastic on request, others not.

We have removed the sentence in our piece though because we don't want to give the impression that it's a chainwide policy, based on your report and the other readers.


Fred said...

I had to comment about the plastic bag fee issue in SF. I lived in Taipei for a number of years and right after they left, they banned free plastic bags in grocery stores. Retailers now charge between 5-10 cents for a "single use" plastic bag.

There are exceptions to this rule (small open-air markets), but for the most part this legislation has worked very well. It's a small hassle, but now people remember to bring their reusable bags with them when they go shopping!

Fresh & Easy Buzz said...

Thanks Fred.
Do you (and others) think it's a better idea to charge a per bag fee for the bags like in Taipei and Ireland (and like in the poposed California legistation)...or to ban the single-use plastic bags outright like San Francisco did?