Transportation Tip: Keeping your food clean with the Plastic Bag Ban

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director


As you may already know, single-use plastic bags that most people use to haul groceries from the supermarket or convenience store is now outlawed statewide here in the Golden State starting next summer. Governor Jerry Brown signed SB-270 on September 30, 2014. The "Solid waste: Single-use Carryout Bags" bill was authored by Senator Alex Padilla who represents the San Fernando Valley area.

The debate over SB-270 has been intense and none of us should dismiss or ignore any valid and straight argument or fact-based point presented from either side. I do agree that there are both benefits and problems in this new law and additional policy changes need to take place at the state level to offset any negative consequences to the state's economy caused by SB-270. Plus, the awful 10 cent minimum fee rule for paper bags is a disgrace to the market economy.

Based on what I read about the law and hearing the arguments from both sides, I will argue that not having light-weight littered plastic grocery bags flying into the Santa Ana River would be a good thing. Plus, places like Costco have clearly shown that there are very efficient ways to move groceries and large volumes of products all without the plastic. Trust me. We will still be able to get our groceries back home and pick up after the dog. Humans have long survived without plastic bags.

On the other front, there are other practical means to control the litter and waste in lieu of a ban which includes expanding bag recycling programs. Plus, there's a lot of debate of how the law will impact the manufacturing sector with the possible removal of thousands of blue-collar jobs during this fragile economic recovery period. The state must ensure that any job losses resulting from this ban be replaced in the marketplace through business-friendly policies.

Add to that the questionable 10 cent minimum fee charged for paper bags. Under the law, stores cannot sell recycled paper bags for less than 10 cents, "in order to ensure that the cost of providing a recycled paper bag is not subsidized by a consumer who does not require that bag." Nanny state politics anyone? Worse yet, this bag "tax" collected by the grocery stores does not go toward resources that benefit the environment. There's no question this part of the law is flawed. Under a market economy, individual grocery businesses should be free to determine how to handle the costs and selling rates of such packing materials. The marketplace should be allowed to determine whether or not it should nickle-and-dime its customers to hand out paper bags and how so, not the state government. Why on Earth is this fee even in the law?

So far, those two flaws have yet to be addressed and the American Progressive Bag Alliance is leading an effort to have the law repealed at the ballot. Meanwhile, parts of the ban are set to begin next summer with the full law in play by 2016.

Enter in the foodborne illness concern raised by opponents. A 2013 report by the University of Pennsylvania links San Francisco's ban on plastic bags toward an increase in foodborne illnesses. I have not been able to confirm a direct connection between the ban and the illness, but the report was correct that the failure to regularly clean and sanitize reusable grocery bags could very well allow potentially harmful bacteria to grow inside and potentially contaminate unsealed food.

So here's the tip. If you use or plan to use reusable grocery bags, wash and sanitize them regularly, especially if you're in a position where you're transporting fresh unsealed food. But wait. SB-270 opponents claim that more energy and water consumption would be required if you do that plus the tote bag would degrade over time. That is ideological spin. Just throw the bag in with an existing cold water laundry load on the gentle cycle. Just get the interior sanitized and let it air dry. Of course, follow any directions on the care tag if there is one. I currently own, use and maintain a few sturdy totes from Trader Joe's for the past three years, and they're still all in fine shape.

Anyway, I'll keep on watch on this ban and how it unfolds. In time, we'll see how the ban affects both the statewide environment, our health and the economy.