How California’s Plastic Bag Ban is Working

Person cleaning up plastic and other beach litter.

California is an integral part of the plastic bag ban story, and it has led the way for countless cities, counties, and states interested in banning single-use plastic bags. Recent findings indicate their state-wide ban isn’t working out so well. The bag ban in the Golden State has a flaw that allowed for thick plastic bags to take the place of the banned bags. The reality is that plastic bags are still in use and are still causing environmental harm. It’s disappointing to see the ban fail and to realize that plastic litter still plagues that state and planet. Efforts are underway to improve the California bag ban, but the ban has done some good. Learn more about the California bag ban and what is in store for the future.

Is the California Bag Ban a Success?

The California plastic bag ban is not perfect, but it hasn’t been a complete failure. Research shows that the amount of disposable plastic bags collected during coastal cleanups in California decreased by more than half from 2010 to 2016. The state ban went into effect in 2014. It is worth noting that numerous cities and counties implemented bag bans before the state-wide measure, so those efforts also contribute to the lack of coastal litter. A primary goal of the ban was to reduce trash and litter, and that has happened.

The California ban has not had the intended impact but has made improvements. Once state officials update the language to prohibit all plastic bags, the revised ban will reduce even more plastic litter and have a much broader impact.

Teachable Moment

The ban was effective in spirit, has increased awareness, and helped many people use less disposable plastic and switch to reusable products. Before the state-wide ban, there was a patchwork of bans in cities and counties, and not every area had a ban. The state-wide ban did not replace existing bans but offered consistency by implementing a ban in areas not already covered by one. Thanks to the state ban, shoppers knew what to expect when they ran errands in neighboring towns and counties.

The ban underestimated how people would look for ways to circumvent it. The shortcomings of the California bag ban have already helped other officials implement more effective measures. More recent bans address and prohibit thicker plastic bags from the start, so future updates are unnecessary.

Learning from this mistake enables others to pass bans that don’t have loopholes and work effectively from the start. Any failure or setback is disappointing, but learning and moving forward constructively is a success and makes the best of the not-so-great situation.

What’s Next for the Golden State Bag Ban

A bill to ban all plastic bags is before the state legislature. If approved, the updated bag ban will take effect in 2026. Interestingly, if approved, the revised ban will only impact about half of the state’s residents. Most of the major cities and counties already have bans, and many of these local measures already prohibit all plastic bags. Updating the state ban will not change the situation in many stores, but it will impact areas without a local ban in place.

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