Every year, it seems, the California Legislature can't bring itself to pass meaningful legislation to reduce the number of plastic carryout bags in the state. On year, in fact, the Legislature bowed to the industry and instead of allowing a small fee on the bags, banned cities from imposing fees on them.
That's too bad because, as the Times editorial board has pointed out numerous times, a small fee on the bags is the better way to go, as fees in such diverse places as Ireland and IKEA have shown. That way, people still have the convenience of the plastic bag if they really want it; at the same time, the prospect of paying even a few cents cuts down hugely on their use; at IKEA, the number of such bags used dropped by about 90% within the first year.
Those flimsy handled bags are a particular strain on the environment because so many of them find their way to the beach and ocean and become part of that gigantic soupy plastic mix called the Great Floating Garbage Patch or the Pacific Gyre (there's also one in the Atlantic). They're also swallowed, but not digested, by marine life, which can make it hard for animals to eat the food they actually need. And because the bags are so light and can be blown so easily by the wind, they're also a problem in various wilderness areas, where they can choke animals. The state tried upping the recycling of the bags, but it didn't work.