The Eco Hero Kids perform a song about the harmful use of plastic bags during a press conference on the Santa Monica Pier Tuesday morning regarding the AB 1998 (Brownley), a bill that would ban sigle-use plastic bags in California. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SM PIER — Free plastic bags could soon vanish from checkout stands across California under a bill proposed by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) that is set for a crucial vote in Sacramento this week.

Brownley’s proposal would bar grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies in California from giving customers free, single-use plastic bags. Stores could still use paper bags made out of 40 percent recycled paper but would be required to charge customers at least 5 cents for each bag.

At a press conference at the Santa Monica Pier on Tuesday, proponents of the bag ban said the bill now has the backing of a broad coalition of environmentalists, retailers and union workers.

Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, called the bill the logical first step in beginning to address a global environmental problem.

“We need to break our addiction to single-use plastic packaging and we need to do it now,” he said.

Gold said his group, which is sponsoring the bill, has been working on passing a plastic bag ban for more than five years.

According to the group Environment California, another backer of the bag ban, Californians use 19 billion plastic bags each year. Bags end up in the ocean and on beaches, where they negatively impact 267 species each year, the group said.

In a single day, more than 71,000 of the bags were picked up on California’s coast during a beach cleanup day, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

The plastic bag ban effort received a boost when Brownley announced her bill had won the backing of the California Grocers Association.

If the bill, AB 1998, passes the Assembly by this Friday it would proceed to the state Senate for a vote, and then to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a signature before becoming law. The ban would take effect Jan 1, 2012.

The bill is opposed by the American Chemistry Council, which has said the ban would put bag providers out of business and burden consumers with an extra cost.

The bill’s backers, though, said it could save people money.

“There is no such thing as a free plastic bag. Everytime you get a plastic bag at the grocery store, that cost is included in the price of your groceries,” said Lisa Boyle, co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition. “It’s a cost we can no longer afford.”

She said the measure would reduce taxpayer expenses for cleanup and litter abatement programs. Only about 5 percent of plastic bags currently get recycled, she said.

Santa Monica, meanwhile, has looked into enacting its own plastic bag ban, as Malibu has, but delayed taking action after Manhattan Beach, which had adopted a plastic bag ban, had its measure successfully challenged in court.

An environmental impact report on a local plastic bag ban, a step intended to preempt a legal challenge, was expected to be released today. The council is expected to consider the report at a meeting in September.

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