By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - An effort to kill California's first-in-the-nation state ban on single-use plastic grocery bags advanced this week after bag makers spent several million dollars on a campaign to gather signatures for a proposed ballot initiative to overturn it.
The ban, which was passed by the state Legislature and signed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown in the autumn, is widely supported by environmentalists, who say the bags contribute to litter and pollution. But the measure has triggered a harsh reaction from plastic bag manufacturers, who say their product can be easily recycled.
"You just take it back to the grocery store and stuff it into a container and it gets recycled," said Jon Barrier, a spokesman for the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is funding the effort to repeal the ban.
The industry group contributed most of the $3 million spent to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to overturn the state's ban, currently set to take effect next July. The organization said on Monday it had submitted more than 800,000 signatures to county governments, more than the 505,000 needed to place the measure on the ballot.
Environmentalists have long pushed for banning plastic bags, which are cheaper for supermarkets to use than paper bags, but create mountains of trash. In California, there is particular concern that the bags, when swept out to sea, could harm ocean life.
Dozens of cities and counties throughout the state have already implemented their own local bans.
Mark Murray, a spokesman for a group supporting the statewide ban, said the plastics industry was trying to protect its revenues at California's expense.
"Virtually all of the plastic bags sold in California are produced by just three out-of-state corporations," Murray said in a statement. "And these corporations and their chemical suppliers have made it clear that they will do and say anything, and pay any price to continue to sell plastic bags into California."
It is not clear whether the proposed referendum will actually make the ballot, because the state must confirm that 505,000 of the signatures submitted are valid. If it does so, implementation of the new law would be postponed until after the November 2016 election.
Ironically, the incoming secretary of state who must check the signatures, Democrat Alex Padilla, authored the ban as a state senator and was the target of industry attack ads while running for statewide office this year.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)