SACRAMENTO — Californian consumers will no longer be charged 10 cents per grocery bag at the store which paves the way for retailers hand out thinner, single-use plastic bags under an executive order Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Thursday.
For at least two weeks, many major grocery chains have stopped letting customers bring in reusable bags over fears of spreading the new coronavirus. Customers were prohibited from placing their own bags on the conveyer belt. If they wanted to use their grocery bag, they were asked to step aside and bag their groceries.
California, which has some of the nation’s strictest laws aimed at reducing plastic waste, banned stores from handing out single-use plastic bags in 2016 and required them to charge 10 cents for all paper and plastic bags several years ago. Newsom’s order suspends those rules for 60 days.
The law banning most plastic bags and setting the 1-cent fee was signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. It was supported by the grocery workers union and major stores such as Safeway, and upheld by voters in 2016 when they approved Proposition 67, defeating an attempt by the plastic bag industry to over turn it.
Newsom’s executive order also allows grocery stores to temporarily stop accepting recyclable bottles and cans, which they then transfer to recycling centers. Consumers will still be charged the deposit when they purchase the bottles.
In the order, Newsom wrote it is necessary to minimize the risk of exposure for workers performing essential activities, and that contact exposure at retail stores or recycling centers could spread COVID-19.
“Our employees are expressing a great deal of discomfort and fear of exposure,” wrote Ron Fong, president of the grocery association and Rachel Michelin, president of the retailers association, in a letter to Newsom.
But not everyone supported the order. Mark Murray, of Californians Against Waste, told The Mercury News that reusable bags are safe and “pose zero threat” if consumers bag their own groceries. He pointed to guidelines for grocery workers released last week by the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health that offer employees three ways to deal with reusable bags: Not touch or use them, ask customers to leave them in their cart, or ask customers to bag their own groceries.
“Retailers, while maybe well intended, inflicted this costly and unnecessary wound on themselves by discouraging consumers from bringing their own bags,” he said in a statement. “The simple and safe solution for consumers and stores is for everyone to bring their reusable bags and bag their own groceries in line with Cal-OSHA guidelines.”
- Shopping bag: Pixaby