States Ban the Bag: California – The Movement Begins

Magenta-pink flowers in front of California coast with caption: A look back on California's bag ban

A Look Back at The California Bag Ban

California officially started the plastic bag ban movement in the United States. The movement first got underway in 2007 and in 2016 voters decided to up the ante with a state-wide ban. In this installment of #StatesBanTheBag, we analyze the evolution of the bag ban movement in the Golden State.

Early Days of the Movement

San Francisco started things off in a big way when they became the first city to pass a single-use plastic bag ban in 2007. San Francisco holds the distinction of being the first city to pass a bag ban, however, it was several years before the ban actually took effect. The proposal initially called to ban single-use plastic bags at retail establishments and restaurants. The ban was delayed due to legal reasons, primarily around banning plastic bags in restaurants.

When it eventually did go into action in 2012, the ban only applied to specific retailers. In 2013, the bag ban was extended to restaurants. More recently, San Francisco officials are looking to increase the paper bag fee and extend the ban to include plastic produce bags.

Picking Up Speed

The bag ban movement had a bit of a rocky start. Many of the early efforts to ban disposable bags failed to work out for one reason or another. Eventually, state law in California required municipalities to conduct an environmental impact study before a ban could be passed. These studies allowed the bans to stand up against detractors and outlined the potential positive impacts of the proposed ban.

Plastic bag bans quickly caught on in California. Between 2007 and 2016, over 100 municipalities passed single-use plastic bag bans. Cities within the same county would often work together to pass similar bans. After which, county officials would typically pass a law that implemented the ban to unincorporated areas, so there would be consistency throughout the entire county.

Taking Action at the State Level

California was quickly covered in a patchwork of bag ban laws. Some laws prohibited paper bags, while others levied a fee on paper bags or placed no restrictions on paper. Other cities simply imposed a fee on plastic bags. The idea of a state-wide ban began to circulate as a way to unify the state and extend a bag ban to areas not already impacted by local laws. This would simplify matters for both residents and businesses.

A state-wide plastic bag ban, SB 270, was approved in 2014. The ban was held up due to legal issues and at one point there was talk of enacting a fee on single-use plastic bags instead of a ban. Eventually, it was decided that the matter would be added to the ballot and put to a vote.

California voters narrowly approved the ban, which appeared on the ballot as Prop 67, in November 2016. California’s state-wide ban prohibits single-use plastic bags and levies a 10-cent fee on paper bags. The state law only impacts areas without prior bag legislation.

California Bag Ban Still Going Strong

The impact of California’s bag ban has been positive. California’s plastic bag ban has been in place for several years and residents report less trash. Everyone adjusted to making the switch from single-use plastic bags to reusable.

California’s bag ban took a lot of hard work and dedication and the results have clearly been worth it. These efforts also inspired and are continuing to inspire others outside of the Golden State to take action. Stay with us for the #StatesBanTheBag series to learn more about states doing their part to reduce plastic.

Check back next week to learn the answer to the riddle: which state has banned plastic bags despite not technically having a state-wide bag ban? Stay in the know about green news, Eco Specials and more by signing up for our newsletter!


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