Money flows in plastic bag fight

A landfill strewn with plastic bags. (Photo: Picsfive, Shutterstock)

With California’s law banning plastic bags on hold, the plastic bag industry and its allies already are pouring money into California in hopes of overturning the law in a referendum two years down the road.

Gov. Jerry Brown, in a decision hailed by many environmentalists, signed SB 270 on Sept. 30, prohibiting single-use plastic bags in large retail stores beginning next July, and in convenience stores one year later.

“SB 270 was never about the environment — it is a billion dollar cash grab for California grocers on the backs of their customers.” — Mark Daniels

Referendum proponents have until Dec. 29 to collect enough signatures to put the referendum before voters in November 2016. If they qualify the measure, the law signed by Brown will remain frozen until voters decide whether to keep the law or throw it out.

Between Oct. 13 and Dec. 1, a handful of companies donated $2.74 million to fight the new law. Much of the money, about $1.7 million, came from South Carolina-based   HiLex Poly, a national bag manufacturing company. Durabag, a California company, contributed $50,000, while another California company, Crown Poly, donatged $12,000. Much of the money is going to signature gathering.

The plastic bag industry says the governor’s decision will hurt business.

“SB 270 was never about the environment — it is a billion dollar cash grab for California grocers on the backs of their customers,” said Mark Daniels, chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance. “We expect to qualify the referendum and are confident that California voters will repeal this bad law when they have the chance to vote on it in November 2016.”

“If they’re interested in helping Californians,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, “I’ve got a list.”

A public opinion poll released by Fairbank Maslin on Nov. 4 found that support of the bag’s ban is broad-based and 60 percent of those surveyed said they would vote “yes” to keep a state-wide ban on plastic bags.

“I’m not sure they have any credibility when it comes to what’s best for California,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

CAW has been working to eliminate plastic bags for more than a decade, mostly through local ordinances. About 128 localities in California already have some form of a plastic bag ban ordinance.

Novolex, parent company of Helix Poly, as well as Durobag and Fortune Plastics, is the sponsor of “Bag the Ban,” a website against bans and taxes on grocery bags.

“As a result of recycling innovation and investment, the United States is the world leader in plastic bag and film recycling. Any tax or ban would endanger this quickly growing green industry and threaten jobs,” Novolex said, providing a fact sheet “on how promoting recycling efforts is a more environmentally and economically sensible solution than a ban or tax.”

Critics contend the industry’s attempts to overturn the law are costly and unproductive, saying the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“If they’re interested in helping Californians,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, “I’ve got a list.”

Information sources for the referendum backers include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Retail Association of Nevada (RAN), the conservative think tank Heartland and a 1990 report prepared for the Council for Solid Waste Solutions. The latter group was described by the Center for Media and Democracy’s Source Watch as a “defunct” organization supported by the plastics industry that’s goal was to “promote public acceptance of plastic products.”

One EPA report noted that recovery for recycling of plastics overall in 2009 was “relatively small” with a 7.1 percent recycling rate, or 2.1 million tons. Another report from 2010 says plastic recycling was 7.6 percent.

It’s due to the plastic bag’s physical properties that it blows off of trash cans and becomes “inadvertent litter” that is “environmentally problematic,” says Murray. “It makes no sense to use the bag for ten minutes when it’s going to last for hundreds of years,” Murray said as plastic bags are not biodegradable.

The APBA says reusable bags can carry bacteria and complain the paper bag tax goes into grocery stores’ pockets.

Under the referendum, not all of SB 270 would be recalled. The loan of $2 million for California plastics industries to upgrade their systems to make thicker, reusable bags is not subject to the referendum.

Supporters of plastic bag recycling contended in 2008 that plastic bags take up less space in a landfill, generate 80 percent less waste than paper bags and that paper bag manufacturing emits 70 percent more pollution than plastic, at least in part basing those claims on online links to information from the EPA.

But the EPA since removed some that information.

“After conducting a periodic evaluation of that content for its accuracy . . . as we worked on the review of that content we were not able to confirm several of the statements with reliable, authoritative citations. Therefore, we removed the Web content because EPA has an obligation to be certain that we are providing the public accurate, reliable information,” the EPA said.

Instead, it offers this advice for all paper, plastic, cotton, or canvas bags: “reduce the number of bags you use and discard after one use, re-use bags to reduce the need for new bags, [and] recycle bags when they can no longer be used.”

The APBA says reusable bags can carry bacteria and complain the paper bag tax goes into grocery stores’ pockets.

Creating a state-wide ban will reduce confusion among low-income consumers as regulations wouldn’t vary, Bartholow said, and the general cost of groceries will go down as the bag’s cost is already reflected in the price of groceries so charging a fee will cover the store’s cost of providing the bag.

“We are a community thinking of our environment every single day,” Bartholow said, as low-income communities are affected by plastic bag pollution too and reducing trash and waste in such areas could contribute to grocery stores staying in that community.

Ed’s Note:  Corrects editing error in 18th graf to include reference to recycling and delete reference to Nevada retail association.




  • Fred Mangels

    I’m sending in my petition to overturn this ban today.

  • bill

    I think the ban should be over turned and and rewritten to include the banning of Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste and the EPA. BAG THE BAN..

  • steadystate7

    Plastic bags should have been banned years ago. It is insane to use valuable and diminishing hydrocarbon resources for such a temporary product. The throw away economy is a marketing creation of recent history and that needs to end. We managed to survive the end of the whale oil industry, we can get over the end of the plastic bag industry.

  • pignut

    What a load of crap. Environmental wackos attack all industry. First tobacco the timber now plastics until there will be no industry in the u s of a.

    • disqus_zkEKWpQzmV

      Or maybe the diminishing environment that ‘environmental wacko’s are trying to protect will cease to exist- in turn, ending industrialization in the US. 🙂

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