At long last, Californians may soon get cleaner streets and beaches — because the state is close to banning the plastic bag.

AB 1998, a bill that would ban plastic bags and virgin paper bags, passed in the California Assembly this week. Now, AB 1998 needs to pass in the state senate, which is expected to take up the bill this summer. Gov. Arnold  Schwarzenegger has already come out in support of the bill, so assuming all goes smoothly, the bag ban would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

That will put a nice dent in the 19 billion plastic bags Californians go through every year. Though bags made of virgin paper would also be banned, stores wouldn’t have to get rid of disposable bags altogether. Recycled paper bags that contain at least 40 percent post-consumer content would be allowed — so long as stores charge at least a quarter for them.

AB 1998 was authored by my own state assemblymember, Julia Brownley. According to LAist,  Brownley has been making both the environmental and business case for the bag ban, pointing out that plastic bags cost Californians $25 million a year in cleanup fees.

Right now, we’ve got a strange patchwork of anti-plastic-bag laws across the state, with some cities like Malibu and San Francisco successfully banning plastic bags outright, others like Santa Monica stymied by the threat of lawsuits from the plastic industry, and others like Los Angeles vowing to ban bags if the state doesn’t ban them soon.

Now, the state is set to ban them soon. To put your voice behind the ban if you haven’t already, sign the petitions or send letters to your elected officials at Heal the Bay, Environment California or Surfrider Foundation.

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Calif. close to plastic bag ban
A ban to bag plastic bags -- and charge for paper bags -- passes in the California Assembly -- and has the governor's support.