(Reuters) - Prospects grew for a proposed California ban on plastic grocery bags on Thursday as the state Assembly broadly approved the prohibition after an earlier vote failed to garner enough support in the face of opposition from bag manufacturers.
A number of cities in California and other states, including Hawaii's Maui County, have made it illegal for grocery stores to pack consumer purchases in plastic. But California's ban, if it passes in the state Senate before a Sunday deadline, would be the first statewide bar.
The measure, which passed the Assembly by a 44-29 vote, would ban grocery stores from handing out single-use plastic bags with customer purchases, and would give local bag companies funds to retool to make heavier, multiple-use bags. Customers could purchase paper or compostable plastic bags for 10 cents.
Environmentalists have pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash that is difficult to recycle. There is also concern that plastic pollution harms marine wildlife and waterways.
"We live in a throw-away society. We live a lifestyle that is ultimately not sustainable," Democratic Assembly member Bill Quirk of Hayward said during debate. "The 10-cent fee will encourage people to use sustainable bags."
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents grocery store workers, said it now supported the bill after taking a neutral stance earlier in the week because of concerns over how the 10-cent fee would be used.
Critics say plastic bag restrictions should be left up to local jurisdictions, and warn that a statewide ban would cost jobs and benefit only grocers.
“The revenue doesn’t come up to the treasury to go to education or public safety,” said Assembly member Don Wagner, a Republican representing Irvine. "It's a tax increase we impose to benefit local businesses."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Grant McCool)