“Paper or Plastic?”

Assemblymember Lloyd Levine of Assembly District 40 discusses the importance of plastic bag recycling in California:

(photo credit eqca.org)

Paper or plastic? It seems like an innocent enough question, doesn’t it? But, when you stop and think about where all the grocery bags we use end up, the question no longer seems quite so simple – particularly in the case of plastic bags.
The numbers are astounding: Californians use more than 19 billion plastic grocery bags each year, creating 147,038 tons of waste in our landfills. With Californians throwing away over 600 bags per second, they are creating enough waste every year to circle the planet over 250 times.
In Los Angeles County, an estimated 6 billion plastic grocery bags are distributed annually, of which only 1 percent are recycled. County supervisors voted just last month to study the issue of paper vs. plastic and whether to enact a ban on standard plastic bags, similar to one imposed in San Francisco.
As an avid runner I witness the problem first-hand. Running along the Los Angeles River, I come across thousands of plastic bags on the river banks, in trees, and floating in the river itself. My experience was confirmed by facts: During a routine Los Angeles River cleanup, plastic bags and film constituted 45 percent of the volume of litter collected – this is because they are so easily carried by wind from uncovered trash cans and dumpsters, vehicles, and solid waste facilities including landfills. This all amounts to more litter to collect on our beaches and state highways, which costs the state $303.2 million each year.
It quickly became clear to me that we needed to do something. That’s why I authored Assembly Bill 2449, which officially became law on July 1. This measure requires grocery and retail stores to take back and recycle plastic grocery bags, making California and Rhode Island the only states in the U.S. with such a program.
Under the terms of the new law, more than 7,000 retail stores in California are required to prominently display plastic bag recycling bins and fund an educational campaign to raise awareness of plastic bag recycling and the use of reusable bags. The legislation also requires each store to make reusable bags available for customers to purchase.
And all these conditions are vital, because while volunteer coastal cleanups and public education efforts have been helpful in keeping California’s coastlines clean, more needs to be done. To reduce marine debris the amount of waste generated on land must be reduced and disposed of properly.
Each year millions of seabirds, sea turtles, fish, and marine mammals become entangled in marine debris or ingest plastics they have mistaken for food. According to recent U.S. EPA estimates, marine debris has had a negative impact on at least 267 species around the world. The plastic can constrict an animal’s movements and kill marine animals through exhaustion.
We can accomplish much toward remedying these unfortunate occurrences by making some modest changes in our behavior, and I need your help with the following things that will help make AB 2449 a success:
-Recycle your plastic bags at your grocery store;
-Ask your local store about its plastic bag recycling program;
-Buy reusable canvas shopping bags;
-Refuse a plastic bag; and
-Get stores to offer cash credits when bringing in your own bags.
If these simple things are done, all Californians can make an impact and play an instrumental role in helping to implement this important measure.
This article has been written by: Assemblymember Lloyd Levine, representing the 40th Assembly District