San Francisco – The California Court of Appeal has unanimously upheld Marin County’s plastic bag ban ordinance. The lawsuit, brought by the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, an unincorporated association, had challenged the county’s 2011 plastic bag ban under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Actions taken by regulatory agencies to protect the environment or natural resources are typically exempt from CEQA’s requirement to prepare an Environmental Impact Report. As the Court of Appeal made clear, this exemption applies to plastic bag ban ordinances.
“This is a great victory for our oceans,” said Nathan Weaver with Environment California. “The court’s decision makes clear once again that local communities have the right to keep plastic out of the Pacific by banning plastic bags and encouraging reusable bag use. Banning plastic bags is the right policy to protect our beaches, our rivers, and the amazing animals that live in the Pacific Ocean.”
This decision is the latest in a series of failed legal challenges to plastic bag ban ordinances by plastic bag manufacturers and their allies. The California Supreme Court famously upheld the City of Manhattan Beach’s plastic bag ban in a unanimous 2011 ruling. The Court of Appeal upheld Los Angeles County’s plastic bag ordinance earlier this year, rejecting a lawsuit filed by Hilex Poly Co. and its allies. Lower courts have upheld plastic bag bans against CEQA challenges in San Francisco and San Luis Obispo County. Lawsuits against Long Beach, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz County have been settled on favorable terms leaving the local plastic bag ban in effect.
Single-use plastic bags are one of the most common garbage items on California’s beaches according to the Los Angeles Times. They are a threat to ocean wildlife, like the leatherback sea turtles that mistake them for edible jellyfish. One in three leatherback sea turtles have plastic in their stomach, most often a plastic bag, according to a 2009 study of 370 autopsies. Nearly 80 California local governments have banned single-use plastic bags in recent years.
“Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute the ocean for hundreds of years,” commented Weaver.
The case is Save the Plastic Bag Coalition v. County of Marin, No. A133868.
Environment California is a state-based, citizen-funded, environmental advocacy organization working toward a cleaner, greener, healthier future.