California may have passed Proposition 67, better known as the “Plastic Bag Ban,” but the ban on single use plastic bags has been on Humboldt County’s radar since 2011, where local groups like Humboldt Baykeeper and the local Surfrider Foundation chapter started a campaign to ban the bags at grocery and retail stores.

Humboldt Baykeeper Director Jennifer Kalt said the new ban went into effect immediately after the election, although officially the election results would typically not be certified for several weeks.

 “The ban should be in place statewide by Dec. 9,” Kalt said. “Prior to this, a lot of stores had prepared for this sort of thing especially in Humboldt where stores generally wanted to have the same rule across the county.”

Kalt said there were too many bag bans to keep track of and the National Grocers Association had helped immensely in phasing out the bags as quickly as possible.

“It’s important to stop the plastic bag pollution at the source rather than sending volunteers out to clean them up or spending millions of dollars trying to clean it up from our creeks and oceans,” Kalt said.

Arcata was the first local jurisdiction in Humboldt County to implement a plastic bag ban under its Reusable Bag Ordinance, which went into effect in 2014.

Arcata City Councilwoman Susan Ornelas said the city’s earlier ordinance was part of the its zerowaste efforts and Arcata has a long-standing history of advocating for reusable resources.

“Arcata was definitely a leader as far as creating plastic bag ordinances in Humboldt County,” Ornelas said. “The citizens are generally happy the state saw the need for the plastic bag ban in later years.”

Prior to Proposition 67, 150 cities in California had plastic bag bans in place. At the time of Arcata’s ban, the city joined 88 other jurisdictions that also had similar laws.

According to Mark Oldfield, communication director for Cal Recycle, the passage of Proposition 67 means Arcata’s laws would not be affected by the ban as long as they either follow or exceed the state’s standards. The new law took effect Nov. 9, and according to Cal Recycle, most grocery stores, retail stores with a pharmacy, convenience stores, food marts, and liquor stores will no longer provide single-use plastic carry out bags. The stores instead provide a reusable grocery bag or recycled paper bag to customers, which cost 10 cents or more.

As far as what to do with the current single-use plastic bags that many have acquired over the years, Oldfield said the current law had no stipulation that speaks to that.

“People can choose to recycle them at their local grocery stores or reuse them for other things. At this point, it’s really up to the consumer,” Oldfield said.

According to California’s bag laws, the bags that are acceptable have handles specifically designed and manufactured for multiple uses, with a minimum lifetime capacity of 125 or more uses that carries 22 pounds or more over a distance of 175 feet and has a minimum volume of 15 liters. They are either made of cloth or other machine washable fabric or durable material including plastic that is thicker than normal single-use plastic bags.

The cost of the bags is what legislative director for Environment California Dan Jacobson said was a small price to pay when it comes to stopping the wasteful pollution of the bags.

“The idea is not selling plastic bags to make some sort of profit, sure the store will probably make a small profit on them if they sell the bags for 10 cents and the bags take roughly 6 or 7 cents to make, but the cost is to remind people to start bringing their own bags so they don’t have to buy new ones every time they go to the store,” Jacobson said. “It’s like a reminder or trigger where people can say ‘Oh, I’ve got to bring a bag’ if they’re going to the store.”

Jacobson said the fact California was the first state to ban single-use plastic bags altogether was an incredible accomplishment by small grassroots organizations that took on a huge industry. 

“Its a great environmental step for California in light of the recent presidential election,” Jacobson said. “We’re once again leading the change and the voters, given the chance, made the right decision.” 

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