California Votes Down 2012 Plastic Bag Ban

In a blow to environmentalists, California voted down a ban on single-use plastic grocery and pharmacy bags starting in 2012, followed by convenience and liquor store bags in 2013. The move would have stopped Californians from using roughly 19 billion bags per year. From the CS Monitor:

The plastics industry is working hard to defeat the measure. “This bill is bad for the economy and bad for the environment,” says Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets at the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which is heading the opposition.

A previous version of the bill allowed for a 5-cent fee that retailers should charge customers to cover the cost of a recycled paper bag. Mr. Christman says that Californians call ill-afford such a fee, as the state faces a $19 billion budget deficit and an unemployment rate higher than the national average. “This will put 1,000 workers out of work and add $1 billion to the grocery costs of working families who will now have to pay for something they once got for free,” he says.

The loss-of-jobs complaint is offset by the opportunity for small companies to create reusable bags, says Environmental Defense Fund senior analyst Wade Crowfoot. Christman counters that the majority of reusable bags are already made more cheaply elsewhere, whereas plastic bags are made in the US.

I have no sympathy for the industry on this one. According to this source, plastic bags make up 10% of the debris that washes up on the US coastline. They kill 200 different kinds of species, thanks to ingestion and suffocation. They use oil: One estimate says China will save 37 million barrels of oil a year by banning free plastic bags. Another, by the Australian government, says that “The amount of petroleum used to make a plastic bag would drive a car about 11 metres.” Polyethylene, from which the bags are produced, is a suspected carcinogen. Too boot, plastic bags are terribly inefficient to recycle.

That’s a heck of an impact for a product that’s easy to replace with a reusable alternative. Still, California lawmakers concluded the ban would infringe on personal choice (ABC):

California lawmakers rejected a bill late Tuesday night that would have made the state the first in the nation to ban all plastic shopping bags. Opponents of the bill argued that the ban went too far to regulate personal choice. Republicans and some Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would have added an extra financial burden on consumers and businesses already facing tough times.

“If we pass this piece of legislation, we will be sending a message to the people of California that we care more about banning plastic bags than helping them put food on their table,” said Sen. Mimi Walters, R-Lake Forest. The American Chemistry Council was the ban’s biggest opponent. “I can’t underscore this enough. … This is their battleground,” she said. “The ACC is opposing this. Hiring lobbyists, showing ads, targeted radio spots.”

Keith Christman of the American Chemistry Council said that more than 500 organizations and companies were against the ban. He said groups were concerned about the cost the ban on plastic bags would put on working families, specifically $1 billion per year to buy paper bags.

I’m not sure these guys give a flying squirrel about the working poor, but nice rhetoric, I guess. This reminds me of something I heard on a David Cross comedy routine: “Americans have a long and proud history of voting against their own best interests.” Here we go again.

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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.