Another attempt by the plastics industry to block LA County’s grocery bag reduction ordinance was stopped on Feb. 21, when a California Appeals Court upheld an earlier Superior Court ruling that stated a 10 cent charge for recyclable, recycled content paper bags did not constitute a tax.
The LA County ordinance banning single-use plastic bags in grocery stores in the unincorporated area of the county went into effect in July 2011. Customers who do not bring their own bags to the store are offered paper bags for 10 cents each.
Hilex-Poly, the largest single-use plastic bag manufacturer in the country, sued the county, citing Proposition 26, a 2010 voter approved initiative which requires a two-thirds approval by California voters to implement any tax, fee or levy. Lawyers for Hilex-Poly claimed that the 10 cent per bag charge was a tax and therefore violated Prop. 26.
On March 23, 2012, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Chalfant ruled that the 10 cent per bag charge was neither a ‘general tax’ imposed for governmental purposes, nor a ‘special tax’ collected by the County for a specific purpose. In addition, he found that the charge would be exempt under Prop. 26, stating that it
"fits within Prop 26’s first exception to the definition of a tax: (1) A charge imposed for a specific benefit conferred or privilege granted directly to the payor that is not provided to those not charged, and which does not exceed the reasonable costs to the local government conferring the benefit or granting the privilege to the payor."
In California’s Second Appellate District Court, Division Three, Chalfant’s ruling was upheld.
"We conclude that the paper carryout bag charge is not a tax for purposes of article XIII C because the charge is payable to and retained by the retail store and is not remitted to the county. We therefore will affirm the judgment in favor of the county and other respondents."
Because they ruled that the 10 cent charge was not a tax, they did not further consider whether it fell under any of the listed exceptions under Prop. 26.
This ruling further bolsters efforts to ban single-use plastic bags across California. Over 60 cities and counties have passed plastic bag ordinances. The Sacramento City Council is currently considering its own ordinance with discussion to be brought forward in the coming months.
Read the ruling here.
Find out more about Californians Against Waste’s Campaign to End Single Use Plastic Bags.