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Proposition 65 – Plastic Bag Fees

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Official Title:

Carry-Out Bags.  Charges.  Initiative Statute.

Special Note:   

Two initiatives deal with the question of plastic bag use in California.

Proposition 67 is a referendum that asks voters if they wish to uphold or overturn the law passed by the Legislature that outlaws plastic bags.  A "yes" vote on Proposition 67 means the statewide ban on plastic bags will go into effect.  A "no" vote on Proposition 67 means the statewide ban on plastic bags will not become law. 

If Proposition 67 fails, the outcome of Proposition 65 will be moot and will have no effect (since the entire statewide law will have been repealed).  However, if Proposition 67 passes and the state law is upheld, the outcome of Proposition 65 will determine whether the revenue stream generated by bag fees should remain with the retailers or be redirected for specified environmental purposes.


In recent years, many local governments in California have passed ordinances restricting or prohibiting single-use carry-out plastic bags, generally in response to environmental concerns.  As of 2015, 115 cities and counties in California had passed such ordinances.  These local ordinances usually ban such bags at grocery stores and other establishments, and require the retailer to charge at least 10 cents for the sale of paper or reusable bags.  Under most of these ordinances, the retailer retains the proceeds for the charges for such bags.

In 2014, the California Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a statewide law (SB 270) which adopted a similar ban on single-use plastic bags.  Like the local ordinances, the state law also requires retailers to charge at least 10 cents for any paper or reusable bag that it provides to consumers at checkout and creates standards for reusable bags (such as size and durability requirements). The law allows the retailers to retain the revenue from the sale of these bags.

However, a statewide referendum (Proposition 67) was qualified for the November 2016 ballot, requiring the state law to be voted on for approval or rejection by the voters.  If the referendum passes, the law will be upheld.  If it does not pass, the law will be rejected.  The statewide law was not implemented, pending the outcome of the referendum.

Proposition 65 changes where the revenue from the sale of carryout bags would be deposited.  Rather than being retained by the retailers, such revenue would be allocated for specified environmental purposes.  Specifically, under Proposition 65 the revenue would be deposited into a new state fund to be administered by the state Wildlife Conservation Board.  Revenue in the fund would be used to support (1) grants for programs and projects related to drought mitigation; (2) recycling; (3) clean drinking water supplies; (4) state, regional, and local parks; (5) beach cleanup; (6) litter removal; and (7) wildlife habitat restoration

Fiscal Impact:

According to the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), whether Proposition 65 has any significant fiscal effects on state and local governments in the near term depends on whether voters choose to uphold or reject SB 270 in the November 2016 election.  If voters uphold the state’s current carryout bag law, Proposition 65 will result in redirected revenues from retailers to the state, potentially in the several tens of millions of dollars annually.  If voters reject the state’s current carryout bag law, Proposition 65 will likely result in minor fiscal effects.

CCC Position:

No position


Supporters of Proposition 65 include the California Taxpayer Protection Committee and the California Senior Advocates League. 

Supporters argue that this measure is needed to stop grocery stores from keeping all the money collected from carryout bag taxes as profit instead of helping the environment.  Supporters contend that grocery stores will gain up to $300 million in added profits every year as a result of a deal put together by special interest lobbyists, all at the expense of California consumers and with little or no benefit to the environment.  The bag fees should be dedicated to environmental projects such as drought relief, beach clean-up, and litter removal. 


Opponents of Proposition 65 include Californians Against Waste.

Opponents state that this measure was placed on the ballot by four out-of-state plastic bag companies and has no real significance other than to distract from the issue at hand – phasing out plastic shopping bags.  Opponents assert that Proposition 65 would direct funding from the sale of paper bags (an option under the plastic bag ban) to a new state fund.  The money for this fund is not considerable and would shrink over time as people adjust to bringing reusable bags. 

Reflections on Church Teaching:

"The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.  If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others."  Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si : On Care for our Common Home (May 2015).

"Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste present in different areas.  Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth…These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish."   Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si : On Care for our Common Home (May 2015).

"An ordered love for creation, therefore, is ecological without being ecocentric. We can and must care for the earth without mistaking it for the ultimate object of our devotion. A Christian love of the natural world, as St. Francis showed us, can restrain grasping and wanton human behavior and help mightily to preserve and nurture all that God has made. We believe that faith in a good and loving God is a compelling source of passionate and enduring care for all creation.Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social TeachingA Pastoral Statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ( November 14, 1991).

Learn more about Care for Creation -