Plastic Bag Ban Upheld by CA Supreme Court

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on July 18, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California Supreme Court unanimously upheld Manhattan Beach's plastic bag ban on Thursday, ruling that the small Southern California beach town was not required to conduct a full-scale environmental review before enacting legislation.

Though there was no question that cities have the power to enact such a ban, the court's decision will make it much easier for smaller localities to ban plastic bags without incurring significant costs.

Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, a group of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors, have been challenging bans across the state, particularly when municipalities fail to conduct a full-blown Environmental Impact Review (EIR).

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires public agencies to conduct an EIR only if evidence shows that a project or regulation may have "significant adverse effects" on the local environment.

Pointing to the city's relatively small size (nearly 40,000 residents), the court determined that common sense supports the city's belief that the ban would not have a "significant adverse effect" on the region.

And even if it did, it would be indirect and nearly impossible to predict.

While this decision makes it easier for smaller cities and counties to pass plastic bag bans, it also makes it clear that larger regions will need to conduct full-blown EIRs.

As of now, the Los Angeles Times reports that nearly a dozen California areas have bans in place, including Marin County, Long Beach, San Jose, and parts of Los Angeles County.

While these larger areas appear to have conducted a review, many of the smaller ones have not. This ruling will, at the very least, save them the hassle of their very own plastic bag ban lawsuit and review.

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