At its meeting Tuesday, September 12th, Santa Monica City Council unanimously agreed to oppose Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s signing of Assembly Bill (AB) 2449, “Plastic Bag Litter and Waste Reduction,” as amended, which gives the state control over regulating plastic carryout bags.

The request to oppose the governor’s signing of the bill was made by Councilman Kevin McKeown “in order to preserve Santa Monica’s local jurisdictional power to responsibly monitor and control the use of environmentally damaging products.”

AB 2449 would require most California grocery stores to take back and recycle plastic grocery bags and provide consumers with a bag re-use opportunity. Additionally, retailers and manufacturers would be required to implement a public education pro- gram, and all plastic bags would be labeled “Please return to a participating store for recycling.”

However, a recent amendment to the bill also prohibits any local county, city or township from imposing any fee, ban, levy or restriction on plastics bags, which many believe is in contrast to the original intent of the bill.

“The problem that I have with it is that it removes the ability of local jurisdiction to have its own control over plastics and bags,” McKeown said. “We are considering a Santa Monica ordinance that may go beyond what AB 2449 does, and we don’t want our ability to do that in the public interest snatched from us.

“It is we at the local level who are held responsible for fulfilling various trash and pollution mandates, and AB 2449 takes away some of our rights to create tools to solve local problems.”

AB 2449, authored by California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, proposes a six-year pilot program to address the problem of plastic bag litter and waste by requiring most large grocery stores and other retailers to be responsible for plastic bag litter and waste, according to Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, who supports AB 2449.

“We’ve got environmentalists as well as retailers supporting the measure, so I’m reasonably confident the governor is going to sign this bill,” said Murray.

AB 2449 would create a uniform statewide program — similar to one already in place in Rhode Island — and “local governments can’t modify those terms,” said Murray.

“It would prohibit local jurisdictions like us to make any regulations regarding plastic,” McKeown said. “It was added to an existing plastics bill. We did not know it was coming. Fortunately we’ve had time to look into this.”

Murray said that there are only two actions local governments would not be able to take as a result of AB 2449.

“They [local governments] can’t change the recycling requirements at the participating stores and they can’t assess an advanced disposal fee on retailers that are participating in the program,” Murray said. “I think it’s a little misdirected and counterproductive to oppose a statewide program.”

In California alone, over 19 billion plastic bags are generated annually, resulting in 147,038 tons of plastic waste disposal.

Murray says that he believes the Santa Monica City Council was “well intentioned” in opposing AB 2449, but that it is “not being sensitive to the fact that there are literally hundreds of other communities that don’t have the time or interest to pass plastic bag recycling measures. That’s why we need a statewide law.”

Still, many are against AB 2449 and have written letters to the governor asking him to oppose the measure, including the City of Palo Alto, the Northern California Recycling Association, the Earth Resource Foundation, Heal the Bay, and the Solid Waste and Environmental Department from several cities, including Marin, Oakland, San Francisco, San Luis Opispo, Sonoma, Alameda and others.

“This bill doesn’t do anything that the big stores aren’t already doing,” said Stephanie Barger, founder and executive director of the Earth Resource Foundation, who opposes the bill. “We need to reduce the amount of plastic bags used and this does nothing to reduce the amount of use; it doesn’t reduce or reuse [plastics].

“It doesn’t require that plastic bags be made of recycled plastic, and there’s absolutely no funding, so who’s going to educate the businesses? Who’s going to go out there and enforce it?”

Barger believes the only thing AB 2449 does is that it “hinders the work of the local people.”

AB 2449 passed in the Assembly 73-4 and in the Senate 31-9. The bill was not yet at the governor’s desk, said Barger. The governor will have until Saturday, September 30th, to sign the bill. If he does, AB 2449 will go into effect July 1st next year.

Santa Monica City Council will send a letter to the governor’s office requesting that he not sign the bill, McKeown said.

“In order for us to retain the power [to monitor and control the use of environmentally damaging products] locally, we have to hope that the governor will refuse to sign a fourth amendment [to AB 2449],” McKeown said. “There is time for us to take a stand against this bill.”