This common item is on the way out at California grocery stores

Paul Rogers, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

For most grocery shoppers, they are as familiar as carts with wobbly wheels, aisles of cereal boxes and checkout stands full of juicy celebrity tabloids. But in California their days are numbered.

Big rolls of thin plastic bags, often used only once to hold fruit and vegetables, or to put around packages of meat — then tossed in the garbage soon after — are going the way of green stamps and manual cash registers.

Under a bill signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom late last week, California will become the first state in the nation to phase out single-use plastic produce bags in supermarkets. The bags, called “pre-checkout bags” in grocery store lingo, must be replaced no later than Jan. 1, 2025 with recycled paper bags, or bags made of compostable plastic.

“This kind of plastic film is not recyclable. It’s a contaminant in almost any bin you put it into,” said Nick Lapis, director of advocacy for Californians Against Waste, an environmental group that supported the bill.

“It flies around landfills and flies out of trucks. It gets stuck on gears at recycling facilities. And it contaminates compost. It’s a problematic product we want to get rid of.”

The bill, SB 1046, by Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, passed the Legislature on a party-line vote, with most Democrats voting for it and most Republicans voting against it.


The main opponent was the California Grocers Association.

Nick Rose, a spokesman for the association, said Tuesday he had no comment on why the group opposed the bill.

But in a letter the grocer’s association wrote to Eggman in April, the group asked for supermarkets to be given until 2025, rather than 2023, to phase in the new compostable bags, so that manufacturers would have more time to ramp up. Eggman granted that delay, but did not grant the group’s request for the bill to also include a ban on local cities putting in place similar rules or fines for stores using single-use plastic produce bags.

“They play a pivotal role in protecting consumers from possible contamination and food illnesses that result from raw packaged meats touching other products,” wrote Leticia Garcia, director of state government relations for California Grocers Association in the April letter. “These bags also provide an additional layer of protection when breakables, like wine bottles, are placed in grocery bags with other products.”


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