POLITICS AND POLICY California Is First to Ban Plastic Bags Statewide

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation's first statewide ban on the use of plastic bags in grocery stores and other businesses on Tuesday.

Major cities around the country, including Los Angeles and Seattle, already have bag bans in place. But the California prohibition represents a significant victory for its supporters, who say other states could follow California's example.

The California ban would prohibit the bags in grocery stores and pharmacies beginning July 1, 2015, and go into effect for convenience and liquor stores a year later. The backers of the law argued plastic bags are rarely recycled and often end up in the sea, polluting oceans. Opponents of the ban said it risked jobs and vowed to work to repeal it.

Mr. Brown signed the legislation on the last day to sign bills passed by the legislature this year.

"This bill is a step in the right direction-it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself," Mr. Brown said in a brief statement. "We're the first to ban these bags, and we won't be the last."

The ban signed by Gov. Brown would allow reusable plastic bags to be sold at grocery stores, and would also allow paper bags to be sold to consumers for a minimum of 10 cents.

San Francisco and Portland, Ore., also have plastic-bag bans already in place, as do most counties in Hawaii. Three other states—Rhode Island, New Jersey and Massachusetts—currently have similar bag bans pending, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

An industry group representing plastic-bag makers, called the American Progressive Bag Alliance, said Tuesday they plan to put a referendum on the ballot in 2016 to repeal the California ban.

"If this law were allowed to go into effect, it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions, so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets," said Lee Califf, executive director of the alliance.

Bag makers opposing the ban also argued that it would essentially serve as a giveaway to state grocers, which now will profit from products they previously were required to buy and offer free as a service to consumers.

The legislation was supported by the California Grocers Association, which said it would eliminate a patchwork of local laws. The ban was also backed by United Food and Commercial Workers, a grocery workers union, which said it wants the money currently spent on plastic bags to be used for worker training and food-safety initiatives.

Mark Murray, executive director for Californians Against Waste, an environmental organization that supported the ban, said the plastic-bag industry should be worried.

"I think they're right to be worried that the end of the plastic grocery bag is in sight," said Mr. Murray. "With the success in California, I suspect this policy is going to sweep across the country."

Mr. Brown had signaled he would likely sign the bill earlier this month, during a debate with his Republican gubernatorial opponent, Neel Kashkari. Mr. Brown then called the ban a good "compromise" that clarifies a patchwork of prohibitions already in place in various jurisdictions across the state.

Mr. Kashkari criticized the bill as a misplaced priority, saying there was "no chance" he would sign the legislation if he were governor.

Excerpted from The Wall Street Journal