Plastics Industry Groups Are Fighting to Preempt Local Plastic Bag Laws All Over the Country, The Industry Lost in Georgia Last Week

Texas, Georgia, Arizona and Missouri all have bills introduced this session that would preclude cities and local agencies from taking action on local issues - including plastic bag ordinances. This tactic of state law preemption to prevent local plastic bag ordinances is far from new. In fact, in California, the main reason why cities ended up moving forward with bans on thin plastic bags (and charges for paper and reusable bags) rather than fees on all carryout bags is that preemption of local plastic bags fees (but not bans) was snuck into a 2006 statewide plastic bag recycling law (AB 2449, click here for the full story).

In Florida in 2008, a state law was adopted that required the Department of Environmental Protection to submit a report to the state Legislature regarding regulation of bags and no local government could enact any regulation on the use of disposable plastic bags until the Legislature acted on the report. The Retail Bags Report was submitted in 2010 and no action has been taken to date, which means that local bag laws are preempted in Florida.

In Illinois in 2012, a plastic bag ban preemption law passed both houses but was vetoed by the Governor only after Abby Goldberg, 13, penned a petition on that gathered 173,000 signatures.

Last week, on March 27, 2015, the Georgia House heard Senate Bill 139 and the bill was defeated by a solid 85 to 67 margin. The official bill summary reads:

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Chapter 1 of Title 10 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to selling and other trade practices, so as to provide that any regulation regarding the use, disposition, or sale or any imposition of any prohibition, restriction, fee imposition, or taxation of auxiliary containers shall be done only by general law; to provide for legislative findings; to provide for a definition; to provide for related matters; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

The Georgia vote is one small victory in the plastics industry's (which is funded by the petroleum industry) fight to stop plastic bag laws. Preemption bills are happening elsewhere and are likely to spread but this win shows that grassroots advocates are prepared to stand up to the petroleum industry's well-funded lobbying efforts.