Props 65 & 67: Clearing Up the Confusion

Even small bits of plastic bags can get trapped in a turtle's stomach, causing an untimely death. (NOAA)

Mary Kuhlman
California News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – California voters soon will decide if the state’s ban on plastic shopping bags will stay or blow in the wind. The 2014 ban is on hold pending the outcome of Proposition 67, a simple referendum asking voters to decide whether or not to uphold the ban.

Then there’s Proposition 65, which Steven Maviglio, spokesperson with the Yes on 67 campaign said complicates things. That ballot initiative would redirect a 10-cent bag fee from retailers to what opponents say is an unclear environmental fund. Maviglio noted Proposition 65 will only go into effect if it gets fewer votes in favor than Proposition 67.

“Prop 65 is on the ballot only because the plastic industry put it there just to confuse voters,” he said. “The people that want to protect the plastic bag ban want a “no” vote on 65 and a “yes” on 67. And so with 17 measures on our ballot, it’s very confusing and daunting.”

While Prop 65 supporters claim the measure would help protect the environment, opponents argue it’s an attempt to distract voters. Top financial backers of 65 are plastics companies, who also oppose 67. If 67 loses, the ban will be lifted. Meanwhile, the industry contends plastic bags are recyclable and account for small amounts of litter. But Maviglio counters the bags are not biodegradable and one of the biggest culprits of waste in the world. According to the World Economic Forum, there will be more plastic than fish per pound in the oceans by 2050.

Joshua Hanthorn, program associate with Defenders of Wildlife in California noted that plastic debris is responsible for the deaths of nearly 100,000 marine mammals each year, as well as birds and fish. He said endangered sea turtles are particularly susceptible to the effects of plastic-bag trash.

“It gets trapped in their stomach, which prevents them from properly swallowing food,” he explained. “Many bags are found in turtles and it causes their unfortunate fatality. That’s the number two cause of sea turtles’ death throughout the world.”

Maviglio believes Californians understand the dangers of plastic shopping bags, with bans already in place in 151 communities. He said many shoppers are either bringing their own bags or not using one at all.

“What we’ve seen in these communities is upwards of a 90-percent reduction in overall bag use,” he added. “So it’s not a switch from plastic to paper; it’s just a dramatic reduction in bag use totally. So the impact on consumers is very small.”

He said if the ban is upheld, California would be a national leader by becoming the first state to prohibit plastic shopping bags.