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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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