Plastic Bags Are Now Banned In California— So What Does That Mean For Huntington Beach?

Pepe Trump's victory and the legalization of cannabis in California have dominated the California media, but one of the biggest election wins that we're already seeing the effects of is Proposition 67: the ban of single-use plastic bags. As of November 9th, grocery stores, farmers markets, mini marts, gas stations, pharmacies, convenience stores and liquor stores are banned from packaging customers items in plastic bags. And unless you bring your own, you'll have to pay a dime for paper. So if there's any time to break the habit of leaving your reusable bags in the car when you go to the grocery store, it's now.

For Huntington Beach, it's deja vu all over again. In 2013, the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6-1 to ban plastic bags, unleashing a citizen's revolt led by a load of losers who felt plastic bags were protected by the Bill of Rights. They pushed out a relatively progressive council, and replaced them with politicians who repealed the ban, making Surf City perhaps the only town in America to go back on their initial decision to ban plastic bags—yay, HB!

Environmental groups didn't take the move lightly, however. Orange County Coastkeeper, the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and California Against Waste sued Huntington Beach for failing to conduct an appropriate environmental review on the repercussions of repealing the ban. According to a Surfrider press release, 99 million plastic bags are used (and discarded) every year on average. “The suit against Huntington Beach is still pending,” says Ray Heimstra, the Associate Director of Orange County Coastkeeper. “It's been in limbo since May 2015 because the judge was basically waiting to see how the November 8th vote went.”

Their biggest concern, according to Heimstra, is that the proper environmental reports are used. According to the lawsuit, the same report the city council used to support the bag ban was the same report used to repeal the ordinance with an added section at the end stating that all the data wasn't true. Furthermore, the meeting in which the city council voted on the repeal didn't allow for public or expert comment. “That's why we were fighting for an environmental impact report to be done,” says Heimstra. “But Prop. 67 passed so that's a done deal. It's up to the attorneys whether or not to drop the case against the city.”

The political game isn't quite over yet. Heimstra explains that it's not out of the question for bag manufacturers to sue over this law to get the courts to overturn it. He expects that if any suits are brought against Prop 67, it'll be within the next 60 days.

Lawsuits aside, the law now requires bags to meet strict environmental standards. For instance, every bag must have a minimum of 125 uses and be able to hold up 15 liters or more. They must be made without any hazardous metals and have to be machine washable. Lastly, every reusable bag must be stamped with the country of origin, say it's reusable and that it can eventually be recycled. As for paper bags, they must currently be derived from 20 percent post-consumer recycled material and state it on the bag. By 2020, however, that percentage requirement will rise to 40 percent.

Although some find Prop. 67 to be a rip-off, environmentalists argue that passing the bag ban in California is likely to set off a domino effect across the country. “The bag ban is a really big deal for our environment,” says Heimstra, “After everything that happened in the election, it was definitely one of the shining moments.”

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