By Ken Schwab
Great News! Momentum to eradicate the plastic bag from California is building to an all-time high. A growing list of cities and counties throughout the state are joining the effort, most recently Marin County, San Jose, and Santa Cruz County. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi of San Francisco, who spearheaded the movement when he was a County Supervisor, appropriately described the phenomena as, “One of the most interesting wildfires of common sense.”
The results have been in for many years and the facts have not changed; plastic bags are a hazard to our environment and an economic burden on society. The bag has a short functional lifetime of a few hours whereas its destructive time span is infinite. No one can dispute that the bags’ design is intended to be disposable, for single-use, and cheaper than paper.
Although accustomed to the plastic bag, it seems that consumers are willing and able to switch to re-usable or paper bags, even at a cost. “It’s a great thing,” and “good for the environment” are a few of the comments from customers since the ban became effective on the first of the year, according to Scott Mendenhall, Executive Team Lead for Target Stores in San Jose. He also witnessed customers who were unaware of the recent ban actually run back to their cars to grab their re-usable bags. If society is so enthusiastic to make this change, then why has the campaign met with so much resistance?
The American Chemistry Council (ACC), along with the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, have made a feeble but effective effort to use lawsuits to intimidate municipalities into altering or abandoning proposed bag bans. The primary strategy for industry is to argue that society should not have fees imposed on them to purchase bags. “The thing to know overall is that plastic bag bans and fees don’t work, they just cause shifts to an alternative,” says Keith Christman, managing director of Plastics Markets for the ACC. In the case of Santa Cruz, County Board Chairman Mark Stone recently commented, “They said if we pull that restaurant (take-out bag) piece out of our ordinance, they would drop their lawsuit.” He added, “I would rather get the single-use bag ordinance in place right now, even if it means losing the restaurant bag piece.”
Despite the plastic bag lobby’s devious legal maneuvers, it seems that the general consensus among local lawmakers is on the side of bag bans. Most cities in California that are working on bans would even prefer to see a statewide measure. Rather than depleting limited local resources for individual bans, a statewide ban would have a larger backing and impact. Proponents were excited in February 2010 when Assembly Bill 1998 was introduced to ban single-use plastic bags in California. However, the bill failed to pass just six months later.
While lobbyists and government officials continue to debate the logistics of bag bans, there is a simple and easy way for you, as a watershed resident, to get involved. If every consumer took it upon themselves to embrace re-usable bags, then there would be no demand for plastic bags and hence no need to supply them. Your motivation and actions can make an immediate impact to the environment and allow future generations to thrive. “Be the change you want to see in the world” – Mahatma Ghandi