By Linda Hunter
Plastic bag manufacturers were dealt a critical blow last month when California’s highest court upheld a ban on plastic bags in Manhattan Beach. In its unanimous decision citing “substantial evidence and common sense” the California Supreme Court said that Manhattan Beach was not required to conduct a costly environmental review when it passed an ordinance prohibiting the bags in 2008.
The plastic industry used this requirement mandating an environmental impact report as a tactic to thwart the growing movement to ban single use plastic bags– you know, the ones that blow around everywhere– polluting our watersheds and our ocean, littering beaches, strangling wildlife and clogging landfills.
But it wasn’t the only weapon in their bag of tricks. The most prominent plastics lobby group, the American Chemistry Council, spent 1.4 million dollars to defeat a plastic bag tax in Seattle and another two million to defeat legislation that would have banned plastic bags throughout the state of California. When San Francisco proposed a tax on plastic bags four years ago, the plastic lobbyists headed straight to Sacramento and convinced the legislature to pass a law making it illegal for local municipalities to tax plastic bags. That didn’t sit well with the sponsor of the bill, San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, so he amended his legislation to ban plastic bags outright, making San Francisco the first City and County in the nation to do so. Unfortunately, when other municipalities like the City of Oakland tried to get on board, they were told that they would need to find a way to pay for the costly Environmental Impact Report. The Council has gone so far as to pressure California schools to adjust educational curriculum to include positive messages about plastic bags– a truly despicable strategy, and a punch in the gut to those working to protect our watersheds.
According to their website, “The Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council promotes the responsible use, reuse, recycling and disposal of plastic bags and creates positive change in our communities by promoting the increased recycling of plastic bags as well as their proper use, reuse and disposal. We work to create solutions to reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in our landfills and, sometimes, as litter. Together with policy makers, businesses and community members, PBA is dedicated to implementing new ideas and improving existing programs that make a difference.” PBA’s members include the leading manufacturers of plastic bags and polyethylene resins: Advance Polybag, Inc., Dow Chemical Company and Exxon Mobil.
But despite the cheery optimism coming from their spin strategists, this type of greenwashing http://plastics.americanchemistry.com/Sustainability-Recycling is simply not working anymore. In fact, the industry and their lobbyists are looking more and more ridiculous as evidenced by their David and Goliath lawsuit against Chicobag, a successful local company that makes reusable bags; and who is, according to the lawsuit, irreparably harming the plastic bag business. Well, that’s the point, right?
I am heartened by the success of small grassroots efforts to protect the environment from the damage caused by marine debris (including a recent effort by West Contra Costa County to ban plastic bags). In particular, Washington D.C. managed to pass a tax on plastic bags with the help of the local Surfrider Foundation‘s campaign: Skip the Bag, Save the River that focused on the pollution that locals could see firsthand in the troubled Anacostia River. And it worked– in just the first month plastic bag use plummeted to 3.3 million per month, down from an average of 22.5 million per month in 2009.
When plastic bags have been banned throughout the country and the planet, people will go back to doing what they did before there were plastic bags– simply bringing a reusable bag, putting smaller items in one’s pockets or purse. There will be so much less clutter in our lives and our creeks, rivers and watersheds will thank us.