Paper, plastic or a dirty bag?

JUNE 3, 2010

Hollywood starlets, politicians, business representatives, labor and environmentalists had a meeting of the minds this week at a press conference held by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, in support of AB1998, to ban the use of plastic and paper grocery bags.

Well, maybe agreement was reached between the above named parties, but not everyone agrees. “This is not the time to be putting a financial burden on families in a very tough economy,” said Assemblyman Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay. Gaines estimated that his family would spend more than $50 a year on paper bags.

According to Brownley, the proposed ban on single-use plastic and paper bags, is necessary not just to save the environment, but also “so consumers know what to expect when they get at checkout counters.” What we can expect at the checkout counter if Brownley’s bill passes, is higher bills at the grocery story.

With shoppers being forced to purchase grocery bags, hundreds of dollars will be added each year to already high grocery budgets. Costing upwards of $3.00 per bag, reusable bags may have been tres` chic in recent years, but come with environmental issues as well.

A study conducted by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council (EPIC) in Canada found that the eco-friendly shopping bags are Petri dishes of disgusting bacteria. In a November 2008 study in Toronto, using swab testing of reusable shopping bags, found that there was considerable bacterial build-up, mold and yeast on the reusable bags, as well as significant levels of fecal bacteria. The reusable bags are used for gym clothes, and even as diaper bags, concluding that the millions of reported cases each year of food poisoning could be from contaminated eco-friendly grocery bags.

Ironically, San Francisco’s ban on plastic grocery bags caused shoppers simply to switch to paper bags. Brownley’s bag ban however will allow shoppers to purchase recycled paper bags from the stores, “for no less than 5 cents” according to the bill, if shoppers do not bring their own bags.

In a surprising liaison, Brownley’s measure has the support of the California Grocers Association, because supermarket owners stand to profit from charging the bag costs to their customers. The grocers’ association decided to back the bill after Brownley agreed to include all stores that sell groceries in the ban. Brownley stated that her bill would “level the playing field for all grocers in the state by making a uniform ban on plastic and paper shopping bags,” and charging for recycled bags if shoppers don’t bring their own bags to the store.

Some are arguing that this bill will not only hurt shoppers, but mom-and-pop store owners and independent markets will feel the burden, and inevitably have to pass along the additional costs to shoppers.

Opposed to the plastic bag taxes and bans, “Save the Plastic Bag,” was created “to respond to the environmental myths, exaggerations and misinformation that have been spread about plastic bags.” As a result of much misinformation, many people believe that plastic bags kill 100,000 sea mammals and a million seabirds each year. Brownley used this emotional argument at her press conference, and trotted out the much-used turtle with plastic bag in its mouth (click here) as proof. “Save the Plastic Bag” reports that not only is the story about the turtle not true, The London Times exposed the dead sea mammals and seabirds as a myth based on a typographical error. The report mentioned fishing discarded tackle including fishing nets, not plastic bags. David Santillo, a marine biologist at Greenpeace, told The Times: “It’s very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags. The evidence shows just the opposite.” (Click here.)

The American Chemistry Council estimates the bill would amount to a $1 billion tax and threaten 500 jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing business.

Amy Kaleita with the Pacific Research Institute (CalWatchdog’s parent organization) writes, “biodegradable plastic bags cost between eight and 10 cents, compared to a penny for the standard plastic bag.  Supporters of the San Francisco ban say the price of biodegradable plastic bags would drop if more municipalities required them, but this may not be the case. The biodegradable bags are made from soy and especially corn.  Given the increasing demands for corn from the ethanol industry, the cost of producing these biodegradable bags is likely to increase by a significant amount.”

Plastic bag manufacturers argue that the problem is not the manufacturing of plastic bags, it’s a litter problem caused by careless people. Enforcing litter laws would go much further to helping the environment according to opponents of Brownley’s bill.

Brownley calls grocery shopping bags “single-use bags,” yet most people use plastic bags multiple times before tossing them into the trash. Everything from trashcan liners, storage and carryall bags, to doggie poop pickup bags, plastic shopping bags have many uses.

Brownley’s succession of supporters at the press conference included the strange coupling of the California Grocers Association and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) labor organization, together with the parade of environmentalist organizations including Heal the Bay, Environment California, and Californians Against Waste. Actresses Amy Smart (Scrubs), Rosario Dawson (Josie and the Pussycats), and Rachel Lefevre (Twighlight) made impassioned speeches about animals in danger, polluted oceans and beaches. “The garbage patch is gross,” said Dawson referring to a huge floating island of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean.

The bill would require grocery stores to sell reusable bags beginning Jan. 1, 2012.

Does this bill prove that the Legislature has nothing better to do, or is this the best they can come up with? Driven by special interest and perhaps an abundance of time, Brownley’s bill will impose another unnecessary tax on the consumer and once again penalize private industry.

–Katy Grimes

Related Articles

Govt. Raids Calif. Raw Milk Producer

If you want a treat, drink some raw milk. It’s tastes so much better — and is better for you

Bill would strengthen public's right to comment before votes

“The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them,” says California Code Section

Road To Serfdom Paved With Politicians

OCT. 22, 2010 Here we are in another election cycle, bombarded by political advertising and politicians, offering claims of selfless