Sacramento should ban plastic bags

For more information on a potential ordinance to ban plastic bags in Sacramento, read Christopher Arn's news feature “Will Sacto finally ban plastic bags?” at
For news from Californians Against Waste about the 50-plus California cities and counties that have adopted plastic-bag banning ordinances, go to and search for “plastic bag.”

Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of plastic! At last, a ban on the ubiquitous, indestructible single-use bags (the ones with handles) is on the table for the city.

Thanks to Sacramento City Councilmen Steve Cohn and Kevin McCarty, the city will soon be considering how to do what 50 other cities and counties in California have already done: Prohibit the use of those plastic bags by major retailers.

Sacramento: Let’s do this thing.

First of all, the bags are terrible. The nonbiodegradable sacks are as light as air and float around the spaces of Sacramento, bunching up around our rivers, parkways, freeways, parking garages—you know because you’ve seen them. The things create local litter mania and cost plenty to clean up after.

Next, the bags are routinely swallowed by birds and other wild creatures, killing them off—particularly marine life—as the bags drift out to sea. Once in the ocean, the plastic carriers may join the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a giant patch of marine debris—mostly plastic in various stages of decomposition—for hundreds of years; it stretches for hundreds of miles in the Pacific.

Finally, there’s the rationale that has to do with the climate crisis. Remember: It takes energy (and the emission of plenty of greenhouse gases) to manufacture and dispose of all those bags. We’re talking 19 billion bags a year in our state and 115 billion bags in the United States.

Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) just introduced Assembly Bill 158, which would ban the bags at large stores in California starting in 2015. But up ’til now, the state has basically bowed to pressure from the plastics industry on this issue. That’s why local governments have taken the matter into their own hands, enacting plastic-bag bans for themselves, while placing a fee on paper bags. The plastics industry has, of course, put up a fight against this. Groups with names like Save the Plastic Bag Coalition have threatened lawsuits and filed petitions to delay or disarm local ordinances. Thankfully, cities and counties have prevailed in the courts so far.

Meanwhile, groups like the California Grocers Association—who represent Sacramento’s major grocery stores, such as Safeway, Raley’s and Save Mart Supermarkets—now say they would prefer a uniform statewide ban to the city-by-city ordinances. We’ll find out soon if the CGA will be true to its word and support Levine’s bill.

Now. Finally. Shoppers. Some of you fear that a ban will make for an extra hassle at the grocery store, right? Please let this go. As those who’ve already made the transition know, bringing your own bags to the grocery store is an easy no-brainer habit to develop—one that makes you feel good about your shopping, yourself and the planet. (Besides, if you forget, you can always pay a small fee for paper bags.) If the people of Los Angeles and San Francisco can make this work, so can we.

The plastic-bag ban goes before the council’s Law and Legislation Committee in February. Here’s hoping that meeting is the first step toward a welcome new Sacramento ordinance banning the bags.