Activists Present Case Against California Bag Ban

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Peter Fricke Contributor
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Debate could end this week on a California bill that would ban plastic bags and impose a ten-cent charge for each paper bag used, with retailers retaining the paper bag fee.

California Senate Bill 270 “would prohibit grocery stores, convenience stores, wine shops, fast food joints and so forth from handing out free paper bags to their customers,” and require them to charge “not less than $0.10” for recycled paper bags. It is estimated that the paper bag fees would generate more than $1 billion in additional revenue for retailers. (RELATED: Denver’s Plastic Bag Surcharge Scuttled)

Ostensibly, the bill is intended to prevent environmental damage associated with disposable plastic bags and reduce municipal cleanup costs, but a study by Julian Morris and Lance Christensen of the Reason Foundation disputes that premise. (RELATED: Plastic Bag Banners Rebuked in New Study)

Morris and Christensen cite a recent study showing that, “plastic shopping bags constituted one percent or less of visible litter in the United States,” meaning a ban would not significantly reduce either the total volume of litter or municipal collection costs.

They also find claims that plastic bags are a threat to marine ecosystems to be similarly unfounded, quoting Greenpeace biologist David Santillo as saying, “it’s very unlikely that many animals are killed by plastic bags…with larger mammals it is fishing gear that’s the big problem.”

Nor would banning plastic bags result in savings of non-renewable energy resources, since “paper bags use about half the energy of a [plastic] bag over the course of their life.” Morris and Christensen estimate that if a statewide ban on plastic bags were enacted, “non-renewable energy use related to shopping bags in California would rise by 50 percent or more.”

The California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CMTA) also expressed opposition to the bag ban in a press release on August 20, saying that, “it would undermine the state’s economic climate.” (RELATED: Bag Ban Leads to Increase in Shoplifting Rates)

The CMTA claims that “SB 270 meddles in the free marketplace…[and] imposes an estimated $700-million tax on thousands of small businesses and millions of struggling and working class Californians who are already dealing with rising food, gasoline and energy prices.”

Advocates of the ban, however, disagree with these assessments. In a statement to San Diego’s KPBS, Roger Kube of the Surfrider Foundation claims that in the course of conducting public beach cleanups, “about 80 percent of what we find is plastic pollution, and fully intact plastic checkout bags make up the fourth most commonly found item.”

The Los Angeles Time reportss that the bag ban is one of 390 bills that must be voted on by California legislators before midnight on Aug. 31, when the legislature adjourns for the year.

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