With introduction of the twelfth bill to regulate plastic bags in 10 years, consumer choice doesn’t stand a chance in California.
And unemployed Californians looking for a job can forget it – plastic bag companies will be just one more industry in manufacturing to get the boot out of the most business-unfriendly state in the nation.
“To continue the use of these bags would ignore the convincing body of global evidence proving that these bags are having a drastic effect on marine ecocultures,” said Freshman Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, author of AB 158. “Additionally, there are several easily available and affordable alternatives to plastic bags. We need to ban these bags once and for all.”
Despite a recent study by the National Center for Policy Analysis which found lawmakers’ banning or taxing such bags reduces economic activity and increases unemployment, Levine has put forward a bill to prohibit grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales, or retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of floor space, from providing recyclable plastic bags to customers.
These stores would be required to make reusable grocery bags available for sale.
Only some of the specifications of AB 158 are available, but include the following:
* Beginning on January 1, 2015, full-line grocery stores with more than $2 million in annual sales or retailers with more than 10,000 square feet of floor space would be prohibited from providing single-use plastic bags to customers.
* From January 1, 2015 to July 30, 2016, stores above could provide recycled paper bags to customers.
* Stores subject to this bill would be required to make reusable grocery bags available for sale.
Last year’s plastic bag bill, SB 1219, lifted a prohibition on local taxes on plastic bags but extended the sunset of AB 2449 (Levine) which mandates plastic bag recycling at supermarkets. Governor Brown signed the bill into law in Sept.
All of the bag bills have required grocery stores to maintain records of the bag programs, and make the records available to the local jurisdiction or the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery upon request.
Of course, these bills all allow government officials to levy fines for stores that violate the requirements.
Unfortunately for Levine, and for most of the bag ban bills that have been put forward in California over the years, the rationale for banning bags is based almost entirely on false information spread by environmental extremists.
Marine debris exaggerations and falsehoods
Levine claims “roughly 10% of the debris that washes up on our beaches is plastic bags.” But, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Plastic bags make up a fraction of one percent of the waste stream.” Moreover, a study by Oregon State University found that if the ocean was the size of a football field, the amount of total plastic (not just bags) wouldn’t even extend to the one-inch line.”
On his website Levine says “hundreds of thousands of marine fish and mammals are killed annually as plastic bags float out to sea.” But according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “To date there are no published studies specifically researching how many marine mammals die each year directly due to marine debris.”
Levine and others have waged a misinformation campaign on this issue causing many people to actually believe that plastic bags kill 100,000 sea mammals and a million seabirds each year. Lawmakers use this emotional argument and trot out the much-used turtle with plastic bag in its mouth as proof. Unfortunately, not only is the story about the turtle grossly exaggerated, the London Times exposed the dead sea mammals and seabirds as a myth based on a typographical error. This figure “…is based on a misinterpretation of a 1987 Canadian study in Newfoundland, which found that, between 1981 and 1984, more than 100,000 marine mammals, including birds, were killed by discarded nets. The Canadian study did not mention plastic bags,” according to the Heartland Institute.
Better alternatives? Not quite
Bag ban proponents claim that paper is a better option, even though other previous bills have sought to ban or tax paper bags as well. Plastic grocery bags actually require 40 percent less energy to manufacture than paper bags. The production of plastic bags consumes less than 4 percent of the water needed to make paper bags.
Levine, as all of his predecessors have, says reusable bags are better. There are studies proving that reusable bags are actually worse. The U.K.’s Environment Agency found that a standard cotton grocery bag must be reused 131 times “to ensure that they have lower global warming potential than” a single use of a plastic bag.
The same study determined it would take 7.5 years of using the same cloth bag before it’s a better option for the environment than a plastic bag reused three times.
And there are health risks associated with reusable bags. A study by the University of Arizona found that half of all reusable bags contained food-borne bacteria, and salmonella.. Last year, bacteria like these infected an Oregon girls’ soccer team with the norovirus after players ate food from a dirty reusable bag.
Plastic bags: single or multi-use?
Lawmakers calls grocery shopping bags “single-use bags,” yet most people use plastic bags multiple times before tossing them into the trash – nine out of ten people reuse them, in fact. Everything from trashcan liners, storage and carryall bags, to doggie poop pickup bags. And, of course, plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable and are used to create other plastic products, including plastic decking and benches, as well as more plastic bags.
A waste of time; a job killer
Does this bill prove that the Legislature has nothing better to do, or is this the best they can come up with? Driven by special interest and perhaps an abundance of time, Levine’s bill, and all of the others before it would only impose another unnecessary tax on the consumer and once again penalize private industry.
In the U.S., the plastic bag industry employs more than 30,000 people (2,000 in California) and supports thousands more who supply products and services. Is this another industry California lawmakers plan on killing?