Bill Magavern of the Sierra Club California said that California's recycling program, which is in its fourth year, is not working to reduce the amount of plastic bag pollution. His group's website states that fewer than 5 percent of single-use plastic bags are recycled.
"Most recyclers don't want them," he said. "They gum up machinery."
His group supported the ban. "This year's bill represents the best opportunity to virtually eliminate plastic bag pollution. It won't take away every plastic bag but it will cut down [their use]," Magavern said.
"One million seabirds and 100,000 other animals including sea turtles eat them or get tangled in them. Plastic bags use nearly 2 million barrels of oil to make them," he said.
Christman of the American Chemistry Council said his organization believes that recycling is the best approach. "Plastics don't belong in the ocean," he said, responding to concerns voiced about wildlife and the environment.
"We support Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Preventing litter," Christman said. "We worked with California state parks and others to put recycling bins in key locations."
Nationwide since 2005, he said, the recycling of plastic bags and plastic wraps has grown by 28 percent, according to a study by Moore Recycling Associates Inc.
He said that the American Chemistry Council worried that the ban would eliminate the recycling infrastructure and that it had worked with members to propose legislation to enhance the state's recycling program.
Christman said the council was more concerned about the 1,000 Californians projected to be put out of work if the ban had passed, although that number was put at 500 by Brownley's office.
An amendment to the bill, added last week, would have provided $2 million in grants and loans to retain jobs in businesses making plastic bags so they could retool and produce reusable bags. A spokeswoman for Brownley said that she believed the bill would have created more "green" jobs as competitors came to California to expand their production of reusable totes. But, Christman said, workers want their jobs.
"Workers don't want training programs. With millions of people out of work," he said. "We don't need this today. They want their jobs."
Four cities in California have banned plastic bags: San Francisco, Palo Alto, Fairfax and Malibu. Elsewhere, Washington, D.C., now charges 5 cents for paper and plastic bags, and Austin, Texas, is debating whether to ban plastic shopping bags.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he supported the bill.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.