Opinion

Plastic bag ban under well-funded attack

Plastic bags and other debris at a landfill await the bulldozer. (Photo: Huguette Roe)

You might already have noticed petition gatherers buzzing around Target and other stores, asking for your signature to undo the historic statewide plastic bag ban signed into law just weeks ago by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

I urge you not to sign them. The signature gatherers are being paid $1.50 for each signature by a South Carolina plastic bag corporation owned by a Chicago equity fund. These out-of-state interlopers are pouring millions of dollars into the effort to undo what the Governor and Legislature have just accomplished to reduce the plastic bags littering our neighborhoods, clogging our waterways and polluting our beaches and oceans and harm wildlife.

If there are enough signatures on the referendum petitions, the statewide ban will be frozen until the measure gets on the ballot in November 2016.

Their effort reminds me of 2008, when two Texas oil companies, Valero and Tesoro, bankrolled a multi-million dollar effort to undo California’s pioneering climate change law. Their interest was motivated by profit. Californians saw that, rejecting their measure by the largest margin on the ballot that year.

Now Big Plastic is taking their turn at bat, trying to hoodwink Californians with a campaign whose goal is to protect the profits of essentially one out-of-state plastic bag manufacturer.

When Gov. Brown signed the plastic bag ban into law Sept. 30,he declared it “a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself.” Said Governor Brown: “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

Previous to the enactment of the statewide ban, Napa, Calistoga, and St. Helena joined 124 other California jurisdictions that have passed local prohibitions on single-use bags. The state’s new plastic bag ban allows those ordinances to stay on the books, along with other local bans passed before Sept. 1. And even if the referendum gets enough signatures, communities will continue to enact bans.

But if there are enough signatures on the referendum petitions, the statewide ban will be frozen until the measure gets on the ballot in November 2016. That means lots of profits for an out-of-state plastic bag company while our state continues to get plagued by plastic bag pollution.

Our communities, the Legislature, and the Governor have gotten it right. They recognize the havoc these flimsy bags create in our environment and he fully understands that implementing a statewide ban will foster innovation, safeguard businesses and create homegrown jobs.

The legislation signed by Governor Brown truly is a compromise. Dozens of groups have joined together in a rare show of solidarity to support a statewide ban. The law has generated a wide list of supporters ranging from groups across political and social spectrums, from chambers of commerce, business associations and manufacturers to labor leaders, environmentalists and poverty rights organizations.

The plastic bag ban is a monumental win for California. I hope voters see through the tactics employed by out-of-state plastic companies seeking to block SB 270. It is short-sighted to talk about stopping a proven policy that will continue California’s long history as a bellwether for innovation, environmental protection and independence from outside interests, before it even has the governor’s signature.

Californians have spoken on this issue. Our communities already lead the charge. And our citizens, legislature, and Governor have spoken. Let’s reject this attempt by an out-of-state special interest to hijack our efforts to make our state free of plastic bag pollution.

Ed’s Note: Mark Murry is the executive director of Californians Against Waste, a nonprofit group that advocates for recycling and environmental protection.


  • Stopfoodtax smith

    Not everyone is paid. I sent in my families signatures. People don’t want this and the people who want the ban know this. You will find the majority do not want a buy your own bag bill. That is right because you can still use the banned bag. You just have to buy it. The store even keeps the fee. Nothing goes back to clean up anything. Not even the fine.

    • LoseTheLitter

      Actually, the signature gatherers are, in fact, paid workers. Those that I spoke with didn’t try to hide that.This isn’t a citizens movement opposing a decision made by elected representatives, it’s quite the opposite: a plastic bag industry attempt to undo a well-reasoned measure similar to those adopted at the local level in many communities throughout California. Unlike with tax revenues, store owners will have complete freedom to use the money they receive from fees on paper bags to discount any other items they sell.The revenue from those fees aren’t intended for “clean-up,” the purpose of the law is to reduce plastic bag litter so it doesn’t need to be cleaned-up.

      • Stopfoodtax smith

        Yes there are paid petitioners and unpaid ones. Putting it to a vote is the best way to know if this is wanted by people. Unfortunately this bill does nothing to clean up litter. The reusable bag has to be used 131 times to equal the footprint of one plastic bag. I have a friend who took a picture of a reusable bag left on the beach.
        The only true way to clean up litter is to actually pick it up.

        • Stopfoodtax smith

          Your average person doesn’t empty their groceries and then set their plastic bags free. The bags were being recycled in 2009 but stores did not keep track. That is the reason the number is only 3 percent. The bag can be recycled but the stores make more money if you buy it. They originally were going to sell the plastic but the recycle bill made it illegal to sell the plastic bag.
          The only green part of this bill is in your wallet.

  • BagMan

    So what is the name of this mysterious SC company?

    • Stopfoodtax smith

      I don’t know, I will have to look it up

  • Guest

    I don’t know, I will have to look it up.

  • Guest

    Single use has enormous human health benefits that I will not forgo…so I’ll buy my own roll to keep in the car for shopping(about 2 cents per bag and worth it). Then my family will reuse them, as we always have, for trash liners and other trash use…forgoing buying plastic bags just for that single use as we’d need to if the single use bags disappear.

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