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Walmart Pilots Plastic Bag Charge: Harbinger of Statewide Ban?

California may soon become the first state to ban single-use plastic bags thanks to AB1998, a proposed bill that would subject shoppers to a 5 cent surcharge for every paper bag used. But how will Californians react to such an inconvenience? Sure, individual cities like San Francisco and Oakland have already passed similar bans, but the sustainability-happy Bay Area is representative of statewide sentiment on the issue. For that, we should take a look at Walmart's plastic bag initiative, which aims to cut down on plastic shopping bag waste at Walmart stores by an average of 33% per store by 2013 using a 2007 baseline.

This past October, Walmart launched an experiment: three stores in Sacramento and Ukiah stopped selling single-use bags. Instead, the Walmart stores started offering small, lightweight polypropylene bags for 15 cents along with larger bags for 50 cents. The bags aren't all that durable, but Walmart claims that each reusable bag offsets the use of 75 plastic bags—not bad for the price. 

The Walmart ban has, of course, brought out passionate voices from both sides. Triple Pundit points us to this article from the Sacramento Bee that features commenters raging against the "environmental extremists" that are foisting these "lousy bags" upon an unsuspecting public. But a video (below) about the ban from a local news channel shows that many customers have reluctantly accepted Walmart's new rules as a positive measure for the environment.

We're guessing the statewide ban will draw out similar reactions from shoppers who continually forget to bring reusable bags. Angry rumblings aside, AB1998 will have a huge impact. Consider this: the average California resident goes through 600 plastic bags each year. That's a whole lot of plastic that could potentially be kept from littering both the streets and the ocean.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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  • Stuart Bogue

    It isn't mandating by the government.It is Government listening to the people who are aware and concerned about this problem.It doesn't happen in a vacuum.Just as catalytic converters did not happen in a vacuum...

  • david wayne osedach

    I don't see any problems of 'laid back' San Diego paying for carrier bags. A lot of us already use the resuable store bags.

  • Chris Reich

    There may be a hidden benefit to this: reduced consumption. As people begin to digest just how much will fit in the bags they brought with them, they will likely buy only what will fit in their bags or a single gag if they know they'll have to buy a bag.

    No? Think back to when the shopping carts were smaller.

    This is a good idea---the plastic bag has to be eliminated from the choice to be eliminated from the landfills.

    It means less oil consumption too.

    If your company makes plastic bags, what's your game plan?

    Chris Reich

  • M'lou Arnett

    I totally agree. I keep reusable grocery bags in my car and use them on every trip. I also carry a reusable bag in my purse that folds up into a small pouch. I do both these things for 2 reasons: they eliminate the waste of disposable bags and they hold a lot more. This is definitely the way to go but corporate initiatives and the marketplace are the way to get there, not government regulation.

  • Nunzio Martin

    Look I use the reusable bags because they hold a lot more and are easier to carry, but what I am sick of is the mandating by government. Let people adapt in their own time or by allowing the business like walmart to charge for them and people still have their choice pay for the plastic every time or pay once for the reusable.