Business groups trying to overturn a new California law that bans single-use plastic bags said Monday that they've collected more than enough signatures to put their referendum on the November 2016 ballot.
If the referendum qualifies, the nation's first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags will be suspended until voters weigh in, effectively buying plastic bag manufacturers more time.
The plastic bag manufacturing trade group American Progressive Bag Alliance said it was turning in more than 800,000 petition signatures to county registrars by Monday's deadline to qualify the referendum. The group needs about 505,000 valid signatures to qualify, and it will be weeks before counties make that determination through random sampling.
The ban was scheduled to be phased in starting in July at large grocery stores and supermarkets as a way to cut down on litter and protect marine life.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB270 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, to pull plastic bags out of checkout counters at large grocery stores and supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Target starting next summer, and convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016.
The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.
The law had marked a major milestone for environmental activists who have successfully pushed plastic bag bans in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Seattle. Hawaii is also on track to have a de facto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.
More than 100 cities and counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, already have such bans in California.
But plastic bag manufacturers said the ban amounted to a cash-giveaway to grocers that would lead to a loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs. They said Californians now have a chance to weigh in.
"SB270 was never a bill about the environment," said Lee Califf, executive director of the bag alliance. "It was a back room deal between the grocers and union bosses to scam California consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees without providing any public benefit."
Supporters of the statewide ban blasted manufacturers for paying any price just to continue selling plastic bags.
"After spending more than $3.1 million, 98 percent of which was raised from out of state, it is clear that the plastic bag industry is more interested in their own profits than reducing an unnecessary source of pollution and waste that threaten California's wildlife and pollutes our ocean, coast, and our communities," said Mark Murray, a spokesman for California vs. Big Plastic, the coalition of environmental, labor and business groups supporting the state's plastic bag ban.
A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed 6 in 10 California voters support the law. The survey showed support for banning plastic bags is even higher in communities that already had a ban.