Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two New Bills in California State Assembly Would Put 25-Cent Per Bag Fee on Both Single-Use Plastic and Paper Carrier Bags

The authors of the bag-fee bills working there way through the California State Assembly in Sacramento hope if passed the legislation will make the message on the reusable bag above a reality in the Golden State. [The bag pictured above is available here.]

Special Report: Carrier Bag Legislation -- California

Two nearly identical bills that if passed would require supermarkets, large drug stores and convenience store chains to charge shoppers 25-cents for each single-use plastic carrier bag and paper grocery bag they request are currently working their way through the California State Assembly in Sacramento.

The first piece of legislation, AB 2058, is authored by Assembly Member Julia Brownley (Democrat), who represents the 41rst Assembly District, which includes the Southern California cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Encino, Hidden Hills, Malibu, Oak Park, Oxnard, Pacific Palisades, Port Hueneme, Santa Monica, Tarzana, Topanga, Westlake Village and Woodland Hills.

The second, nearly identical bill, AB 87, is authored by Assemblyman Mike Davis (Democrat), who represents Assembly District 48, which includes numerous communities in Los Angeles County.

Both bills would if passed require the retailers to charge customers a fee of 25-cents for each single-use plastic carrier bag and paper grocery sack they request at checkout. That amount is subject to being modified as the bills work through the various Assembly committees.

The two bills are being discussed and debated this week in the Assembly Natural Resources Committee. Assembly Member Brownley is a member of that committee.

It's expected that the two bills will eventually be merged into a single bill, most probably AB 2058, then co-authored and supported by both Brownley and Davis, along with picking up additional co-authors. Both AB 2058 and AB 87 currently have co-authors.

We believe that both bills, or a merged single bill, will be approved by the Natural Resources Committee. The committee would then send the bill to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for discussion and an eventual vote. If passed in Appropriations, the committe would then mark the bill up for an eventual vote by the whole Assembly.

A similar bill, AB 2050, which carried a 15-cent per bag charge as its central feature, was passed out of committee in 2008 and was set to be voted on by the full Assembly. [Read our reports here - April 20, 2008: Earth Day 2008: California Bag-Fee Bill AB 2058 Passes California State Assembly Natural Resource Committee; Next Stop Appropriations Committee; and here - April 13, 2008: April 13, 2008: California State Assembly Natural Resource Committee to Vote on Statewide 25-cent Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bag-Fee on Monday.]

However the bill, along with numerous others, was never voted on in the 2008 session because of the budget stalemate the California Assembly and Senate were in at the time. Because the legislature was so late in reaching a budget agreement, any bills that hadn't been voted on by the whole Assembly were shelved.

Assembly Members Brownley and Davis introduced the two new bag fee bills into the 2009 session.

A key feature of the bills is that the fee applies to both plastic and paper bags. This is because a central feature of the legislation is to encourage shoppers to bring reusable shopping bags to the store with them.

Supermarkets and large drug chains in California are required by state law to sell reusable bags in the stores.

They also are required to have recycling bins in the stores so that customers can return single-use plastic carrier bags to the stores for recycling. Unlike the case with paper grocery bags, which are excepted in every California city that has a curbside recycling program, which are most, few if any of the curbside recycling programs accept the single-use plastic bags for recycling,

It's too early to tell for sure but our analysis is that the single-use plastic carrier bag fee legislation has a high probability of passing in the full Assembly. If that happens, the legislation would then go to the California State Senate for debate and eventual vote. In order to become law a bill must be passed by both bodies and signed by the Governor.

Many California retailers, particular chains that operate stores throughout many cities in the state, are supporting the legislation because they want a uniform law (as uniform as you can get since cities in California can still pass their own municipal bag fee laws or bans under what's called "home rule" in the Golden State) rather than having to deal with a patchwork quilt of different plastic bag fee laws and bans in cities throughout the state.

Many retailers also prefer the bag fee over outright bag ban laws which a have now passed in cities like San Francisco, Manhattan Beach and Palo Alto. Numerous other cities are discussing enacting either single-use plastic carrier ban laws or bag fee legislation.

There also appears from our research to be a majority consensus in both the Democrat majority Assembly and Democrat majority State Senate that a statewide bag fee law should be passed this year, despite the economic recession.

It is possible though that the 25-cent per bag fee could be reduced -- say to 15-cents -- as a way to gain consensus in the Assembly. Last year's bill, AB 2050, has a 15-cent per bag fee attached to it.

We expect either both AB 2058 and AB 87, or a combined bill, to be sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for debate and discussion as early as today or tomorrow. Appropriations decides when to discuss and debate bills sent to it from other committees.

Fresh & Easy Buzz will be follwing the bills as they work through the California Legislature, and will keep out readers informed of the status.

Paper, plastic or reusable bags?

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market offers only free single-use plastic carrier bags in its 118 grocery and fresh foods stores in California, Nevada and Arizona, unlike nearly all of its competitors, which offer a choice of free plastic or paper.

About half of Tesco's current 118 Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores are in Southern California (and three in Bakersfield). The other about half are split between Metropolitan Pheonix, Arizona and southern Nevada.

Like all major food and grocery retailers in California, Fresh & Easy offers reusable carrier bags for sale in its stores.

The grocer offers an inexpensive reusable bag it calls "Bag for Life" for 20-cents each. The bags are made out of a clear, plastic-like material. Fresh & Easy offers to replace the bag for free whenever it wears out. The bags are popular in the United Kingdom, where Tesco is based.

[Strategic suggestion: If the 25-cent per single-use carrier bag fee legislation becomes law, Tesco's Fresh & Easy could eliminate single-use plastic carrier bags completely in its stores and sell only the reusable "Bags for Life" for 20-cents each, the current price. It's even 5-cents cheaper than the single-use plastic bags would be under the law. In fact, this is something all grocers in California could adopt. It's actually a good reason for the supermarket, drug and convenience store retailing industry in California to support the bag-free legislation. And the single-use plastic bag manufacturers could transition to making the "Bags for Life." Some already make them. We think its a good idea -- and a much "greener" one than at present. And it would make the retailers look less like the bad guys when it comes to the single-use plastic bag issue.]

Fresh & Easy also offers an inexpensive reusable canvas tote bag ,which it sells for 99-cents each, along with a couple other canvas bag offerings.

In Ireland, which passed a bag-fee law a few years ago, the government says that sense the legislation was passed, single-use plastic carrier bag use by retailers (and thus consumers) has decreased by a whopping 94%

Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market, which self-banned single-use plastic carrier bags in its stores a year ago on Earth Day 2008, says since doing so it's seen customer-use of reusable bags triple in its stores.

The natural grocery chain, which has 297 stores (over 50 in California) and $8 billion in annual revenue, also says in the year since eliminating the single-use plastic carrier bags it's diverted about 150 million of the bags from landfills but not offering the thin bags in its stores. Whole Foods Market still offers customers free paper grocery bags, which are made out of at least 50% post-consumer recycled paper and are 100% recyclable, in its stores. [Fresh & Easy Buzz - April 9, 2009: Competitor News: One Year Since Eliminating Plastic Bags in Stores Whole Foods Market Says Reusable Bag Use Tripled; 150 Million Bags Out of Landfills.]

Whole Foods' gives shoppers who bring their own bags at least 5-cents per bag credit off their grocery orders for each bag used as a way to offer an incentive for reusable bag use. West Sacramento-based Raley's supermarkets also does this, as do a growing number of other grocers.

Related stories:

>April 9, 2009: Competitor News: One Year Since Eliminating Plastic Bags in Stores Whole Foods Market Says Reusable Bag Use Tripled; 150 Million Bags Out of Landfills

April 8, 2009: News & Analysis: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Gets Reprieve As Manhattan Beach, California Plastic Bag Ban Law Held Up By Plastic Bag Industry Group's Lawsuit

>April 28, 2008: April 21, 2008: Earth Day 2008: Whole Foods Market, Inc. Becomes the First Major U.S. Food and Grocery Retailer to Stop Using Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bags Tomorrow

>March 19, 2009: Another Tesco Fresh & Easy Future Market City Bans the (Plastic) Bag: No Plastic Carrier Bags In Palo Alto, CA Supermarkets Starting September 18th

>March 7, 2009: Analysis & Commentary: The Seven Retail Operations Changes Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Needs to Make to Help it Get On the Success Track

>December 7, 2008: Fresh & Easy Offers New Definition of 'Double Bagging;' Says Sales of Reusable Bags Has Doubled Since Introducing its 99-Cent Bag in October

>August 13, 2008: Tesco to Offer Shoppers Free Plastic Bags in UK Stores Only if Requested; Still Offering Plastic Bags-Only in Fresh & Easy USA Stores; No Paper Option

>August 1, 2008: Bag Bans and Fees: Seattle, Washington Imposes 20-Cent Fee On Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bags; Bans the Use of Foam Meat Trays in Supermarkets

>July 23, 2008: Plastic or Plastic: Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bag Bans in California Cities Threatening Tesco Fresh & Easy's Free 'Plastic Bag-Only' Policy

>September 25, 2008: Competitor News: Wal-Mart Joins Tesco, Others in Announcing A Plastic Bag Reduction Program of its Own

>April 20, 2008: Earth Day 2008: California Bag-Fee Bill AB 2058 Passes California State Assembly Natural Resource Committee; Next Stop Appropriations Committee

>April 21, 2008: Earth Day 2008: City of Los Angeles, CGA and Southern California Grocery Chains Partner in Major Reuseable Shopping Bag Giveaway Promotion

>April 18, 2008: Earth Day 2008: New Issues Are Beginning to Emerge With Growing Consumer Use of Reusable Shopping Bags: Worker Injuries, Shoplifting, 'Double-Bagging'

>April 24, 2008: Legislation: Oakland, California's Plastic Grocery Bag Ban Law Not in the 'Bag' Yet

>April 13, 2008: California State Assembly Natural Resource Committee to Vote on Statewide 25-cent Single-Use Plastic Carrier Bag-Fee on Monday

>March 15, 2008: UK 'Banish The (Plastic) Bags' Campaign Update: Morrison's Latest to Make Announcement; Tesco Holds Firm

>March 5, 2008: Britain's 'Banish The (Plastic) Bag' Campaign and Tesco: London Street Artist 'Celebrates' the Tesco Plastic Bag; More UK Retailers to Charge Bag Fee

>March 8, 2008: More UK Retailers Jump On The 'Banish The (Plastic) Bag' Campaign.

>March 4, 2008: "Message From Across the Pond: Tesco is Right Square in the Middle of the 'Banish the (Plastic) Bags' Campaign in the United Kingdom

>May 1, 2008: Green Retailing Report: UK Supermarket Chain Waitrose Creates A 'Reusable-Bag Only' 'Green' Checkout Lane in One of Its Stores

>April 21, 2008: Earth Day 2008: Massachusetts'-Based Stop & Shop Supermarket Chain and General Mills Launch Free Reusable Shopping Bag Cross-Promotion For Earth Day

Earth Day 2009 is Tuesday, April 22.

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