California’s Plastic Bag Ban, Does It Work?

In July 2015 and 2016, California elected to pass a single-use plastic bag ban, a law that prohibits retailers from giving consumer thin, single-use plastic bags for free.

Single-use plastic bags are categorized as thin plastic bags found at many retailers that usually rip while walking halfway through the parking lot.

Now, instead of using single-use bags, California requires all retailers to use heavy-duty plastic bags made from at least 20 percent recycled materials.

The bags are not only thicker, they can carry more weight, product, and are reusable. They also cost the consumer 10 cents a bag at checkout.

The idea behind the law is to prompt consumers to use their own reusable bags when they grocery shop, thus eliminating the amount of plastic waste from shopping bags.

And with a 10 cent charge per bag, it might prompt shoppers to think twice about if they really need a bag.

But is the law actually making a noticeable dent in saving the environment from plastic suffocation?

In a way, it is. Alameda County passed an ordinance in 2013 mimicking the current state law. After one year of the ordinance being in place, Alameda County noticed an 80 percent decrease in the use of paper and plastic bags, according to KQED News. 

After surveying how many people left various grocery stores with purchased plastic bags, the waste management agency StopWaste noticed twice as many people brought their own bags into the store with them, and three times as many people elected not to use a bag at all when only purchasing a few items.

Not only were people using less plastic bags, the grocery stores were purchasing less for the store. After obtaining purchasing reports from 69 chain stores in the Alameda County, StopWaste discovered plastic bag orders went down from 13 million to just 2 million, according to KQED News.

Some environmentalists argue that plastic bags make up a small portion of the plastic issue engulfing the planet, and say the real problem is with hard plastics like water bottle caps, straws and toothbrushes.

However, others argue that any reduction in the use of plastic is helpful, and will help make an impact reducing the amount of plastic making its way into the oceans.

Overall, it’s unclear how much the ban has reduced the use of plastic bags throughout the state of California. So far only Alameda County has looked into the effects the ban is making throughout the county.

Yet researchers seem to agree that much of the impact will fall into the hands of consumers and electing to bring reusable bags with them, whether it’s for grocery shopping or leisure shopping.