After years of debate, California on Tuesday became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores. The legislation is a major win for environmental activists, but there’s also a bright side for ad specialty distributors: the opportunity to sell more reusable promotional bags.
“I’m glad to hear California is taking the lead,” said Mary Calcagno, president of GoCal of California (asi/208797). “I have been hugely in favor of a ban on throwaway, one-use plastic bags for years. The nonwoven bags that many of our industry suppliers have are a much better ecological alternative, plus an excellent new sales opportunity for any client who has a retail presence.”
Jerry Rost of JR Resources (asi/232638) in Del Mar, CA, pointed out that reusable bags are more economical for clients wanting to get their logo and messaging out there. Say a reusable bag’s initial cost is four times higher than its plastic counterpart, the cost-per-view still ends up being much lower, even if that bag is reused only once a month for a year, he explained. “That’s a true win-win for the client and the environment,” Rost said.
The California ban will take effect in July of 2015, though plastic bag makers have vowed to seek a referendum for repeal. Under the legislation, plastic bags will be phased out at large supermarkets, including Wal-Mart and Target, next summer, and convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. The law does not apply to bags used for produce or meat, or to shopping bags at other types of retailers. Grocers will be able to charge a fee of at least 10 cents each for paper bags.
The immediate impact for distributors is likely to be somewhat limited, though, especially considering the exemptions for produce and certain retailers, said Terry McGuire, senior vice president of marketing at Halo Branded Solutions (asi/356000). Still, he added, the increased media exposure on the issue is a boon for the industry, especially if it prompts smaller retailers to consider making the switch to reusable bags.
Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla, the bill’s author, told the Associated Press that the momentum for California’s legislation came from the more than 100 counties and cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, with bans already in place. He believes Californians will easily adapt their shopping behavior: “For those folks concerned about the 10 cent fee that may be charged for paper, the simple, elegant solution is to bring a reusable bag to the store.”
Governor Jerry Brown called the ban “a step in the right direction” in his signing statement. “It reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself. We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last,” he said.