Supreme Court Upholds Marin County’s Plastic Bag Ban

On October 2, 2013, the California Supreme Court followed the state’s growing trend of rulings favoring plastic bag bans when it unanimously denied review of the First District Court of Appeal’s decision upholding Marin County’s ordinance.

Since 2012, retail stores in unincorporated Marin County have been banned from offering single-use plastic bags at check-out, and paper bags carry a 5-cent fee. The purpose of the ordinance, according to the County, is to reduce land and water pollution from discarded bags. Nearly 50 other California cities and counties have implemented similar laws.

Plastic bag manufacturers claim that the measure is actually worse for the environment because it leads to greater use of paper bags, which they argue require more energy to produce and also take up more landfill space. However, the First District Court of Appeal found enough evidence to support the County’s assertion that the ordinance will protect the environment and thus did not require a review of possible negative impacts of the ban. Because the ban is limited to unincorporated areas, it only applies to 40 stores. The Court of Appeal opined that any increase in paper bag use at this small scale would have trivial environmental effects.