Plastic Bag Ban Passes the Assembly Despite Influence of Opposing Industries

Owen Poindexter | June 04, 2010

The classic checkout line question- “paper or plastic?” may soon be obsolete in California. On Wednesday, June 2, the Assembly passed (AB 1998) a bill that would eliminate single-use plastic bags from supermarkets, convenience stores and large stores that include a pharmacy. Paper bags would still be available under the new law, but only for a minimum five-cent fee. Businesses covered by the legislation would be required to sell reusable bags.

The chemical, paper, timber and manufacturing industries all opposed the bill, and though they were unable to prevent its passage, their clout was evident in the votes cast by Assemblymembers. Three Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the bill and five abstained from voting. The three Democrats who opposed the bill received nearly double the average of those supporting over a two-year period.

Asm Floor Vote Count Chemicals, Manufacturing,Forestry/Forest Products, Paper Contributions (3/18/2008 to 3/17/2010)
All 'Yes' voters 42 $2,262
All 'No' voters 27 $3,456
Dems not voting 5 $3,775
Dems voting 'No' 3 $4,992

The bill’s sponsor, environmental advocacy group Heal The Bay, states that “California taxpayers spend $25 million to collect and landfill plastic bag waste each year. That figure does not include external costs, e.g., resource extraction and depletion, quality of life issues, economic loss due to plastic bag litter and human health expenses.” Tim Shestak of the American Chemistry Council, a leading representative of plastic-bag makers, counters that "The last thing Californians need is something that acts just like a $1 billion tax added to their grocery bills – but that's what this legislation does." Five cities in California, including San Francisco and Malibu have already adopted plastic bag bans. California would be the first state to ban plastic bags.

UPDATE: After an intensive campaign by the bill's opponents, the bill was voted down in the senate. Governor Schwarzenegger has indicated that he supports the bill, and would like it to have another attempt at passing before his term is up.

Includes reported contributions to of in office on day of vote, from interest groups invested in the vote according to, March 18, 2008 – March 17, 2010. Contributions data provided by the National Institute on Money in State Politics (