Today the Senate of the State of California killed AB 1998, a bill that would have set a ban on plastic bags in the state. If the bill had passed the Governor had already stated that he would welcome and sign the measure making California the first state in the union to pass an all out ban. Instead of making California a leader in environmental efforts, the bill died in the Senate with a vote of 14-21. In a time where municipalities across the nation are passing bans on plastic bags, the question of “why did this not pass?” rears its ugly head.
The short answer is intensive lobbying. From and article entitled, “California plan to ban plastic bags defeated” by Susan Ferriss of the Sacramento Bee
Lawmakers debated the bill as they worked toward a midnight deadline. The measure received just 14 votes, with 20 opposed.... Chemical-company interests lobbied members intensively to block the bill, doling out donations last month to politicians and mounting a TV, radio and newspaper ad campaign. Grocery store lobbyists, meanwhile, argued strongly for the measure.You can actually see the scare tactics and big budget production from the Chemistry council, rather mind blowing.
The long answer comes from the argument that the industry was pushing.
The main argument I have been hearing is that with the downturn in the economy and the fact that this will negatively impact workers in the plastics industry especially in California. According to the American Chemistry Council, the main opponents and lobbyists against AB 1998 attests; “There are about 1,000 workers out there right now who stand to lose stable, well-paying jobs.” Another source describing the industry's efforts, “...enter stage right the plastic bag manufacturers lobby that cried it would be a biodegradable victim itself costing the state with an unemployment rate of 13% more jobs.”
The American Chemistry Council in an editorial in the L.A. Times complains about the issue of “choice” and the issue of a “free bag.”
...the real blitz has come from those who would stifle choice and presume to tell shoppers how to take their groceries home from the store. It's come from special-interest California grocers who, incentivized by the prospect of no longer having to provide free bags to customers, are seeking cover behind what amounts to state-sanctioned price fixing. And it's come from a few opportunistic reusable bag companies, many of whom import their products, who without an environmental impact study promise to ramp up U.S. production and make reusable bags to replace the plastic ones the state wants to ban.During my time working on the Plastic Bag ban in San Jose, I had the interesting pleasure to discuss with the American Chemistry Council the producer responsibility for the waste-stream life of their products. The concept of producer responsibility is a rather simple one. If you make a product, you are also responsible for making sure that there are reasonable ways of dealing with those same products at the end of their lifecycle. This does not mean “throw them away” and, as I shall discuss shortly, this does not even include recycling. They didn't seem to understand the issue then and they miss the issue now. They forget that these bags only appear free and the fact that they cause such determent to our environment will cause a horrible increase in our costs in the future to clean up the products they produced and had no viable answer for.
We have to also remember that not only are the recycling rates for plastic bags approximately 1-3% but also that the process for recycling them is expensive. While still with the San Jose City Council's office I participated in many talks with industry leaders including those in who represented recycling and land fill centers. During these talks the managers of recycling facilities informed me of two things.
1. The Plastic Bags cost far too much to recycle for it to be worth it for them, so they increase their rates so that the difference is footed by the tax payer since it is mandatory that they accept them.
2. Plastic bags will constantly “gum up” the recycling machinery taking approximately half an hour of man hours, and an approximate total cost of cleaning plastic bags out of the machine to $60,000 a month a cost that gets passed onto tax payers.
According to San Francisco City officials in 2004, plastic bags counted for 2% of the city's total “waste stream” but the actually costs are astronomical, including $7.4 million annually for picking up and disposing of littered bags.
More figures from the California Progress Report - Californians spend $25 million a year to collect and dispose of many of the 19 billion single-use plastic bags used by residents of the state every year. Local governments also spend money cleaning up the bags. For example, in 1994, the annual cost to clean 31 miles of beaches along Los Angeles County was over $4 million.
To me it is a huge shame that this did not get passed and that the arguments against its passing are so flimsy. Hopefully there will be a gut-and-amend effort this round and we can make a stronger push for it. Till then, if you want to make a positive impact for a more sane world, call your California elected officials and let them know you want an end to plastic bags and you are not satisfied with the vote. Be sure to call your State Senator and let them know what you think of they way the voted on the bill, the vote report is here.