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Calif. Governor Signs Landmark Carryout Bag Legislation

After years of work, California grocers scored a major victory Tuesday with Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on Senate Bill 270—a measure that creates a consistent, statewide standard for regulation of carryout bags.

More than 120 local jurisdictions have enacted their own regulatory schemes, many with slight variations. The patchwork has become confusing for grocery retailers and their customers, many of whom operate and shop across the invisible boundaries of local jurisdiction.

SB 270 will bring uniformity on a going-forward basis, with all areas not covered by an existing local ordinance governed by the new state standard. That standard will, beginning July 1, 2015, ban the distribution of single-use plastic carryout bags at the checkstand and mandate a retail-retained charge of at least 10 cents on recycled paper or reusable bags distributed to customers. Produce bags, pharmacy bags and other non-handled ancillary product bags are exempt from the new law.

The requirements cover all grocery retailers, food stores and businesses with Type 20 or 21 “off sale” liquor licenses. Other businesses may voluntarily opt in. Those businesses covered by the state requirements are exempt from any new local bag regulations enacted in the future.

“CGA has worked diligently on this issue for several years, seeking to obtain a uniform standard that will level the playing field,” said Ron Fong, president and CEO of the California Grocers Association (CGA). “Consistency helps alleviate supply chain logistics and employee training issues while at the same time eliminate customer confusion. The minimum charge applied to recyclable paper and reusable bags has been shown to be effective in encouraging consumers to make the shift to reusable bags, and in fact experience across localities shows that in the end most consumers quickly adjust and avoid the charge altogether.”

CGA plans to work with its member companies to help them understand new requirements and deadlines and to provide assistance in educating consumers before the bill takes effect. Many programs instituted in local jurisdictions with existing regulations are expected to be expanded statewide at national chain stores and independent grocers alike.

“This is truly an industry issue for us,” Fong said. “Large chains and single-store operators alike are facing competitive issues as they are required to compete against companies not currently subject to regulation. By signing SB 270, Gov. Brown has helped level the playing field for our industry while at the same time helping grow green jobs through expanded use of reusable bags in the marketplace.”

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