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.

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: