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Plastic bags (Image Credit: Taber Andrew Bain / Flickr)

Plastic bags (Image Credit: Taber Andrew Bain / Flickr)

A group representing plastic bag manufacturers has officially canceled the summer start date for California’s historic plastic bag ban.

On Tuesday, the California Secretary of State’s office announced that a referendum to overturn the ban has qualified for the November 2016 ballot. This means that the ban – originally set to go into effect this summer – may not begin until 2017, or possibly never (depending on how Californians vote).

Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 270 (the plastic bag ban) into law on September 30. Its first phase would have gone into effect on July 2015, banning pharmacies and grocery stores from offering single-use plastic bags to customers. A second phase occurring one year later would have extended the ban to liquor stores and convenience stores.

The ban – the first statewide plastic bag ban in the nation – was a hard-fought victory for environmental groups like Heal the Bay, which called plastic bags a “gateway” issue for “getting people to think more sustainably in other areas of their life.”

California uses some 10 billion plastic bags per year, many of which end up on beaches and in rivers and streams, posing a hazard to wildlife, contributing to the spread of disease and generally messing with the view. They also require millions in cleanup costs.

The ink was still drying on SB270 when plastic bag manufacturers jumped into action to overturn it. According to Californians Against Waste (CAW), more than $3 million was spent on gathering enough signatures to reach the nearly 505,000 needed to file a referendum. The organization claims that 98 percent of that money came from out-of-state sources, suggesting the idea of a statewide ban on plastic bags makes the industry nervous.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, which filed the referendum, eventually submitted over 800,000 signatures. They claim that they are doing so on behalf of the Americans that will be put out of jobs should the ban be enacted.

“California voters will now have the chance to vote down a terrible law that, if implemented, would kill 2,000 local manufacturing jobs and funnel obscene profits to big grocers without any money going to a public purpose or environmental initiative,” said the APBA’s executive director, Lee Califf, in a news release.

The ban would have included $2 million in loans to plastic bag makers to transition their operations into the manufacture of reusable bags.

Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Governor Brown, called the referendum “a cynical ploy by out-of-state interests” to delay a ban that is already in effect in over 100 California communities.

Even if the referendum fails, plastic bag makers will still get 16 more months to sell $145 million worth of bags that would otherwise be banned.

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