Dozens of municipalities have already adopted ordinances prohibiting stores from offering the bags, citing the environmental costs of proliferating plastic. Padilla said his bill would build on that process with a needed statewide standard.
"There's no such thing as a free lunch, and there's no such thing as a free bag," Padilla said at a Monday morning press conference on the steps of the State Capitol building.
And while the Legislature has fallen short in its attempts to institute a ban before, Padilla said his bill's prospects were brighter given "the business community that's coming around and seeing the wisdom in a statewide policy."
The California Grocers Association has not yet taken a formal position on the bill, but president and CEO Ronald Fong endorsed a statewide approach that would offer "consistency and predictability" both to consumers and to businesses trying to navigate a patchwork of varying county and city rules.
"We're looking for competitive fairness for retailers," Fong said at Monday's press conference. "Retailers don't want to be in a position where they need to abide by 70 to 85 different local ordinances."
Padilla cited some statistics about the environmental burden of plastic bags: more than 14 billion are handed out every year in California, producing tons of largely non-biodegradable waste that harm wildlife, pollute bodies of water and posing hefty cleanup costs for the state.
"We can reduce the cost to government and have better-looking communities in the process," Padilla said.
Under the current language in Senate Bill 405, larger stores would have until January 1, 2015 to stop giving out single-use plastic bags, with smaller stores facing a later deadline. Stores could offer reusable bags that meet standards overseen by the California Department of Resources, Recycling and Recovery.
Speakers at the press conference underscored the impact on wildlife, which can get enmeshed in plastic waste. Animals also sometimes consume the bags: birds will unwittingly feed scraps of plastic to their young, and turtles often mistake the bags for coveted jellyfish.
Single-use plastic bags are rarely recycled. Mark Murray, executive director of the group Californians Against Waste, said that only about 5 percent of plastic bags make it to recycling facilities.
"Even with an opportunity to recycle at every grocery store in this state, these particular products don't lend themselves to cost-effective and easy recycling," Murray said at Monday's press conference. "This is a problem product that the best solution is to phase it out of the marketplace," he added.
And even when the bags are recycled, they can still pose problems, according to Sacramento City Councilman Kevin McCarty, who has been immersed in the issue as the Sacramento City Council debates a plastic bag ordinance amid resistance from the business community. McCarty recounted visiting a recycling center in his district and watching workers repeatedly dislodge plastic bags that were gumming up the machinery.
"The city of Sacramento is in full support of this effort," McCarty said. "We're frankly a little late to the game."
Not everyone is pleased. Phil Rozenski, who is working with a bag manufacturer coalition called the American Progressive Bag Alliance, said that single-use plastic bags are "an environmental option" and suggested that recycle rates are so low because consumers reuse the bags rather than recycling them.
"We think consumers should have a choice," Rozenski said.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, talks about his bill in front of photos of polluted bodies of water at an April 15, 2013 press conference. Jeremy B. White/The Sacramento Bee.